Barney Miller: The Indian/Voice Analyzer/The Spy

The Indian

Airdate: January 4, 1979

There’s a philosophical element in the air in this particular episode which runs through the various plots here. First, a Maggie DuBois, played by a squeaky-voiced Alix Elias, previously Louise Helton in “Hostage,” reports a shoe thief that has stolen them right from her feet as she sat at a bus stop. She’s unaware of the fetishistic motive of such a crime. Harris eventually brings in Horace Chandler, played by Phil Leeds, seen previously on several episodes, such as “Rain,” “Group Home,” and “Atomic Bomb.”

Then there’s Levitt, who has apparently given up any hope of becoming a permanent detective, even if he’s on duty in the squad room as a substitute, in decidedly unplain plainclothes, presumably for Yemana. He laments his existential ennui to anyone who asks.

As Levitt is upstairs, Officer Zatelli, in his second appearance after “Inauguration,” takes on mail call duties, earning the descriptor, “Excellent” as a compliment, sparking some jealousy from Levitt. When he asks to talk to Barney about it, Barney concedes that everyone could use a “pat on the rump once in a while.”

These two stories intersect when DuBois’ shoes must remain in evidence. Levitt drives a now more skeptical DuBois home, though I think it’s safe to say he won’t pursue her, unwanted. He might have been a suspect in “The Vandal” and he might be dogged in his goals, but he’s ultimately pretty friendly.

But most important is Wojo and Dietrich’s assignment. Dietrich was sent on the assignment because Barney was a bit annoyed at his more-than-usual jocularity, especially when describing the sexual component of attraction towards the polite and punctual. Barney, thinking such qualities primarily attract platonic affection, despite his concession to Levitt, sends him with Wojo to the park.

They bring back a George Tenfingers, played by Charles White-Eagle, an American Indian who was in the park, causing a disturbance. The Parks Department caught him burning things and chanting because he apparently wants to die in Central Park, prompting concern from Wojo, who wants to get him help.

They drop charges, but as, he sometimes does, Wojo gets a bit over his head. Tenfingers hasn’t eaten in four days, so Wojo calls the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C. by citing a non-existent treaty issue. But he doesn’t really have a plan beyond that.

Eventually a very busy Philip Owens arrives from Washington, played by Richard Stahl, previously Mr. Gross in “Snow Job.” He really would prefer to deal in treaty violations than interact with the people affected by them. He’s uncomfortable around people, preferring instead peoples. Dietrich greets him suspecting he’s there to see Wojo, “Wojo—Chippewa?”

Owens isn’t happy at having his time wasted, so he leaves, saying Tenfingers should be treated as anyone else. Dietrich says goodbye to Owens with some American Indian sign language, but Tenfingers is once again Wojo’s responsibility, who must take him to Bellevue.

There’s a genericness to Tenfingers that seems a function of the working knowledge of the writers. The cultural traits attributed to him by Dietrich are attributed to all American Indians, such as spirit animals, the belief that the center of the universe is inside each of us, and the sign language. But what’s important is the relationship he has with Wojo.

It appears that Wojo will take more away from it than Tenfingers would take from Wojo. Instead of going to Bellevue, Wojo takes him back to the park where they talked, sat peacefully, and then Tenfingers died on his terms. Wojo reports back before requesting the rest of the day off to think.

Given how sick Jack Soo was, I wonder if such a story might have been loosely inspired by his prognosis. Soo would die on the day that the very next episode would air.

Voice Analyzer

Airdate: January 11, 1979

When the papers run stories citing an anonymous source of kickbacks from NYPD precincts, including the 12th, Lieutenant Scanlon brings in the big guns, a voice analyzing machine with its operator, Mr. Sanders. Dietrich, ever the voice of exposition, describes the process of the machine that proponents assert measures microtremors in vocal patterns. He rather pointedly cites the critics’ view that such claims are “a bunch of sheep dip!” But in Scanlon’s paranoid and zealous pursuit of police corruption he misses the real story.

Harris takes a statement from an egotistical, Edward G. Robinson-looking Mr. Ramsen regarding the theft of his car, license plate “RAMSEN1,” as well as valuable furs. Eventually, the thief is caught very quickly, a Mario Pellegrini who blurts out that the furs are junk, revealing himself to be an expert on the matter. Whether Ramsen was in on it or not, Barney allows him to concede the incident as an accident, scaring him with the offer of the use of the lie detector.

That brings us back to our main story. Since we all know the precinct is above board, the lie detector is a venue for some character comedy. Harris is smart enough to know how to play the game, knowing that calmness will beat the machine, whatever the answers are.

This worries Wojo, who takes everything extremely seriously. It’s no surprise Wojo’s everyday worries include his lunch, how his mother is doing, and nuclear war. That’s a tough burden. The test doesn’t go well when Sanders mispronounces his name and asks if Wojo likes his mother. Sanders is simply trying to establish a baseline, but Wojo flies off the handle. He storms back into the squad room to complain to Barney, while Scanlon celebrates with George Murdock’s usual flailing physical comedy.

Dietrich is even calmer than Harris, to no one’s surprise. Scanlon even warns Sanders about Dietrich, who plays up his mysteriousness by messing with Sanders. His middle initial stands for an unknown name, he was born in a galaxy far, far away, but the readout doesn’t move at all. Sanders is so flummoxed, his curiosity so piqued, that he has to ask Dietrich whether he really is from another galaxy! Dietrich is as ambiguous as ever.

Finally Barney comes in. Throughout, he’s advised the squad that they can refuse to take the test if they wish, so Barney takes his own advice on the grounds that Wojo’s results invalidate the effectiveness of the machine. If Wojo came up guilty, when Barney knows Wojo’s innocent, the test is worthless. But it’s not too worthless. A tense Scanlon tries to defend the use of the machine, and his reason for being there. But with every sentence, the machine starts going haywire. Barney tells Scanlon that if Wojo’s testimony goes into the record, so must Scanlon’s histrionics.

As mentioned in the previous review, this was the episode that aired the day Jack Soo died. I hope he got to see an early cut because this was quite a funny episode. Dietrich does give the squad his birth date as October 23, 1947, St. Mary’s Hospital, Allentown, PA, but this appears to conflict with his statements in “The Radical,” where he claimed to be fourteen in 1957. So who knows?

The Spy

Airdate: January 18, 1979

The paranoia continues when not only vigilante sports store owner Bruno Bender returns upset at a mime, Leslie Phillips, performs in front of his store, but an ex-CIA spy, Mitchell Warner, played by Philip Sterling, previously Mr. Buckholtz in “Discovery” and Noel Cadey in “Inauguration,” flipped out at the unemployment office.

There was an episode of American Dad!, “Permanent Record Wrecker” that featured a premise of an ex-CIA spy trying to find a new job. In both cases, the agents were laid off. There, the paranoia appears to come from the CIA, nervous that Stan Smith would talk in any job he took. But here, the paranoia comes from agent Warner himself, upset that the CIA did little more than say “Goodbye Boris” to him as he left.

It doesn’t help that he offers Wojo a tantalizing clue at the life by saying he could tell him things about the Fall of Saigon that would make one’s skin crawl. A curious Wojo takes him up on the implied offer, which Warner takes a called bluff.

Then, sensing another possible book idea, Harris tries to pitch himself as a co-author of a memoir with Warner. Warner cites Philip Agee’s book, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, and Frank Snepp’s book, Decent Interval, expressing disgust at the idea. “You know we have a word for guys like you.”

Ever hopeful, Harris replies “Co-author?”

The paranoia reaches a boiling point when Warner manages to grab Levitt’s gun in the shadows and holds the squad room hostage, placing Bender, Phillips, and Dietrich in the cage. Phillips considers miming a rifle; Dietrich warns against it, and Bender eventually accepts Phillips’ offer to perform sales advertisements in front of the store.

With some semblance of control, Warner analyzes the squad room and interprets everything and everyone he sees as some kind of plant in a clandestine operation to keep him quiet.

Unmentioned thus far is an indecent exposure victim, Felice Douglas, whom Warner insults as a homely sex object brought in for realism, despite her earlier attempts to converse with him.

In the meantime, Barney plays things by the book, instructing everyone to do exactly as Warner instructs, placing all their weapons in the trash, leaving him armed. At Warner’s request, Wojo attempts to call the CIA Clandestine Department, eventually yielding the phone to Barney.

What finally convinces Warner is a conversation he and Barney have when Warner inspects Barney’s wallet. Warner calls Barney’s home to find Liz home, though Barney still lives at the Greenwich Hotel. Apparently the little trip at Christmas didn’t yield any immediate reconciliation, which is pretty realistic. Warner’s wife left him after the Bay of Pigs, so he could relate.

In fact, it inspired him to apologize to Felice, who was flattered at being seen as any kind of sex object. After Warner is brought to Bellevue, Felice confirms the address with Barney with the intention of paying Warner a visit.

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