Barney Miller: The Prisoner/Loan Shark/The Vandal

The Prisoner

Airdate: October 19, 1978

Barney’s relationship with Liz is still on the rocks. Luger brings the bad news that someone from personnel will be down to talk to Barney about it because the department has an image to keep up. Luger defends Barney to the department, saying nothing dirty, smutty, or juicy about the situation. It makes one sigh and lament that it was a different time, when divorce had very different connotations, especially when the officer brought in to talk to Barney is also a priest.

Barney’s been evasive about his faith in the past, and expresses reservations, when asked by Father Clement if the uniform bothers him, Barney says, “part of it.” Clement was under the false impression that Barney is Catholic. Though Hal Linden is Jewish, Barney’s past evasiveness suggests to me one of two possibilities: he wants to remain non-judgmental or he’s a closeted agnostic. The latter might be the case considering his lament of uncertainty in “The Tunnel.” It’s likely Harris is also not Catholic, as he barges into Barney’s office and assumes the title “Father” refers to a relation of Barney’s.

In either case, it seems inappropriate to wed church to state in such a way that the department dispatches a man of the cloth to lecture against Barney’s divorce, and an interview on his morality, especially since they suspect adultery as the cause. Barney takes it far better than he does when he or his squad are accused of corruption by Internal Affairs.

Luger finds it ironic that Barney might be getting a divorce at the same time Luger gets engaged to a woman named Agnes. He wonders, “Who the hell is named ‘Ag-a-nes’ anymore?” It doesn’t appear Luger is entirely happy with his possible future, and spends the rest of the episode fielding a call from “Ag-a-nes.”

Yemana and Wojo bring in a Ralph Timmons, a man who was paroled two weeks previously after thirty years in prison. He deliberately allowed himself to get caught carrying a gun as a parolee, so that he could return to prison. Wojo, and Timmons’ reputation-obsessed parole officer, Fred Denton, find the man crazy, while Barney finds the situation new to the precinct.

But it’s fairly common. As strange as it would be to consider him a bellwether, Charles Manson, for example, found life on the outside far more challenging than prison. Timmons smartly compares his experience to the military, something to which Wojo, the former Marine, can relate. Every choice a free person could make has been taken away from people like Timmons and Wojo. So after thirty years, Timmons’ capacity for choice has been so stunted he’s become overwhelmed. Timmons even outlines the value of money in 1948 and there are audible gasps when the oil embargo audience hears that a gallon of gas cost eighteen cents. With little choice in the matter, Barney concedes to the Denton that his hands are tied and that the gun charge would necessitate a trip back to Sing Sing, sparking frustration from Denton to the point that he calls Timmons the garbage he’s charged with returning to society. Timmons has so convinced Wojo that he powerfully defends him.

Harris is convinced the cat burglar is a Henry Newbound, a man familiar to the precinct for operating with the same modus operandi, but Dietrich counters that Newbound died in 1976. When another tip comes in, Harris is actually excited to take the call with Dietrich. The relationship between Harris and Dietrich seems to have eased into one of friendly competition. It turns out the burglar is actually his widow, Frances Newbound, played by the sweet Peggy Pope, previously Lonna Lane in “Strike: Parts I & II.”

Here, Mrs. Newbound connects with both Timmons and Denton. She’s been to the one-two before to bail out her husband, and Denton was his parole officer. Locked up in the cage with Timmons, the two bond. She has an easier time getting out, so she promises to visit him in Sing Sing. Perhaps, one day, he’ll have an easier transition out of prison, with her help.

Dietrich has some good lines in this episode. He expresses fondness for “good news, bad news” jokes, where Harris disagrees. Dietrich reassures Harris that he won’t be telling any…“That’s the good news.” Dietrich also lists several examples of widows who succeed their husbands, far past making the point to Barney. To illustrate his comprehension, Barney lists some of his own. “There are probably some others we haven’t even thought of,” Dietrich quips.

And finally, at the end of the day, thinking about Father Denton, the squad relate to each other to whom they turned for help growing up. Wojo turned to a priest, Yemana turned to a cop on the block, the reason he became a cop, and Dietrich was an only child, with only a teddy bear to talk to, and the bear stuttered!

Loan Shark

Airdate: November 2, 1978

Over the course of five seasons Nick Yemana hasn’t really had many episodes centered on him. Sure, we’ve gotten to know him through his terrible coffee, deadpan but not angry reactions to prejudice, his gambling habits, and his Japanese culture, but he’s rarely the protagonist. Here he gets an episode that made me wish he was the true heir to Fish’s position as veteran cop of the squad room. It would have been interesting to see his take on such storylines.

Here, he’s disappointed that no one remembered that yesterday was his twentieth anniversary as a cop. But he’s even more disappointed that the squad room has taken for granted the menial tasks he usually takes on, when he actually does them. So he expresses his frustration after a coffee request. He replies, “Oh really.

“I’m sure you’d like me to make you some more. And I know you fellas would like me to file your records for you. But as it happens, I’m gonna have a little lunch. I might have my shoes shined. I got a horse in the third race called ‘Disco Daddy,’ and I’m gonna put twenty dollars right on his nose to commemorate the twenty years that I served on this force. And I’ll be back later, and if the horse wins, possibly much later.”

Yemana isn’t the only one on edge as Wojo and Dietrich bring in a George Willis and Leo Fallon. Willis was a customer at Fallon’s illegal tattoo parlor who had some second thoughts during the procedure. Wojo’s judgment of tattoos as sick irks Barney as does Dietrich’s graphic description of the 1970s methods for removing tattoos. Fallon’s been cited for the parlor a few times, but otherwise their clean. So they get turned loose and Fallon offers to fix the tattoo. Willis agrees, but only to a simple completion of the original.

And then there’s the loan shark of the title, Harris has brought in a pawn shop owner for questioning named Nicolas Dellarosa, played by Lewis Charles, previously Leo Lujak in “Blizzard.”

He’s an empty lead, but Harris eventually brings in a fourteen-year-old black kid named Leland Turner, who renamed himself Mohammed X, one of the loan sharks. Turner was found with an envelope filled with seven thousand dollars in bills and waving a pipe at a wino for failing to pay up. His dad’s in Attica until 1981 and his mother works as a prostitute near Times Square, so when Harris finds out the wino wasn’t seriously injured, he cites Turner for Assault 2.

With the parents essentially unavailable, Harris decides to run Turner up to Spofford Juvenile Center in the Bronx, a center started in the 1940s as the Youth House for Boys and Youth House for Girls before changing its name. It would be called Bridges Juvenile Center in 1999 and ultimately closed in 2011 for poor conditions. Even more so than previous juvenile visitors to the one-two, Leland Turner has a very slick operation, impressing Harris, who thinks the kid has the potential to go either way.

Turner has taken to a life of crime so that he doesn’t have to answer to The Man, as he thinks Harris does. But Harris lets Turner know that he has something Turner won’t have as a criminal, credit. In other words, Harris has a legitimacy that allows him a freedom and dignity Turner can’t have as long as Turner has to run from the cops.

To make up for earlier, Wojo helps Yemana out by straightening up the cork board and making some coffee. Yemana tries some and remarks that he always thought it was he, himself that was responsible for the poor taste.

And When Dietrich examines the tattoo materials before sending them downstairs, Barney confesses to his tattoo. He got a simple “VE” with a rose under it, to celebrate VE Day when he was fifteen. That would make his birth year probably 1930, making him 48 during this episode. Yemana asked if he got one for VJ Day. Nope, and neither did Yemana.

The Vandal

November 9, 1978

This episode actually is Yemana’s final episode, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Yemana and Barney walk into the squad room laughing over Yemana’s anecdote when they see the squad room totally trashed. Even the roster board is askew, though Dietrich and Harris use it anyway. Harris’ alpaca sweater was ruined. But more seriously graffiti lines the back wall which reads that “MILLER IS A DIRTY M—!”

Investigating possible suspects, Harris comes up with a list of people that might have a grudge against Barney, including letters to “The Pig In Charge.” But when Levitt brings up the requisition forms Barney requested, he reveals that he was on duty during the incident.

Wojo and Dietrich bring in Lloyd Edelson played by Jay Gerber, previously Mr. Craig in “Christmas Story” and Howard Gabriel in “The Tunnel.” He was fighting with Lawrence Snepp, played by Howard Honig, who previously played Mr. Victor in “Hot Dogs” and Mr. Quentin in “Bus Stop.”

Edelson is irate at network executive Snepp for the terrible programming on television and the diner where they fought is pressing charges against both of them. Edelson despises shows like Mork & Mindy, My Mother the Car, and Me and the Chimp, The San Pedro Beach Bums, and The Chicago Teddy Bears. Dietrich cites former FCC chair Newton N. Minnow’s Wasteland Speech from 1961.

Wojo doesn’t even watch TV, except for the news and sports, as he’s not willing to suspend his disbelief on actors. When Snepp has a Howard Beale moment, screaming from the top of the cage, and Wojo doesn’t get it, Snepp says “Don’t you go to the movies either?!” The restaurant drops charges if the two of them will pay for the damages.

Hearing that Snepp works in television, Harris the writer tries to network. He manages to coerce Snepp into taking a slip with some story ideas with him. Inspired by the meeting, he uses his imagination to suggest that it was an inside job. He suspects Levitt, given the opportunity and possible motive. But Barney is incredulous until Levitt returns for mail call and he begins to act suspiciously.

For once Levitt is quick on the uptake when called into Barney’s office under the pretext of getting to know the officers. Highly offended at the implication that he’s a suspect, Levitt storms out.

Harris eventually brings in the real perpetrator, an Arnold Scully, played by Christopher Lloyd, yes that the actor who played Reverend Jim on Taxi and Doc Brown on “Back to the Future” (1985), and decades of iconic roles since, not the celebrated writer/producer on Frasier.

At this point, Christopher Lloyd would probably have been best known as one of the inmates, Taber, in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), and here he gives such an intense performance that one could see him as being, not only a star, but perfect for a role in the aforementioned film.

Though Barney doesn’t remember the man, Scully remembers him. On May 13, 1961, relative rookie Barney Miller, Badge Number 233451, issued a ticket to Scully for littering his hot dog. Scully was on his way to a job interview, keeping him out of work for two years, ending his relationship with his fiancée, plunging him into a downward spiral of booze, dope, and jail. When Scully says that he has an appointment at five, Barney assures him that they’ll do their best to accommodate him before apologizing to Levitt, who would prefer an official acknowledgement of appreciation on his permanent record.

As a final episode for Yemana, he doesn’t get much to do. But at the very end, Barney requests that Yemana reorganize the files, to which Yemana replies by standing up with a “Yes, sir!” Sensing an insubordinate delivery, Barney asks if there’s something Yemana would like to say. Yemana takes a quick look at graffiti on the wall and says “I have nothing to add.”

Sadly he was more correct than he knew.


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