Season 1, Episode 23: "Badge of Honor" (Michelle Manning, director; Roy Sallows, Jim Henshaw, writers)
Friday the 13th Meets Death Wish via Miami Vice.
The Goods: A beaten-down old cop stumbles across the means to revenge himself on the criminals who targeted his wife, while an ex-boyfriend of Micki’s reappears and acts as shifty as possible.
The Cheese: The return of the sex saxophone, with the added bonus of playing during a violent shoot-out. / The dubious treat of a Robey-sung song playing at a disco. / The shrugging off of Tim’s death / The amazing disappearing shoulder wound. / Naming anyone “Cooter.”
The Sins: Given the focus on revenge, wrath.
Kristopher: Is this the first female director for the series? It comes up in the Wax book that Manning had just directed a music video with a similar aesthetic to this episode (142). Yet, I can’t find said video … IMDb lists her as the producer of 1988’s “Ry Cooder: Get Rhythm,” but not as director. Plus, it seems to me that Ry Cooder is not exactly The Hunger aesthetic type. Manning produced Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, and went on to direct episodes of Miami Vice after this gig. It’s interesting that between 1989 and 2008, she seems to have dropped off the map in terms of directing, but from 1997 to 2005 served as production president for Paramount Pictures. From 2008 to the present, she returned to some fairly big projects, including an upcoming horror film called The Lost Girls (which I had hoped would be a female version of The Lost Boys, but seems like a kind of castaway story).
Erin: Ry Cooder? Wait, isn’t that the name of the first owner of the badge in this episode? Was she cross-promo-ing?
K: Oohh, maybe that is the case. I think Wax spells it “Cooter” in the book, but this would make sense. Still, a villain named “cooter” is hilarious to my 1980s self.
The opening scene is ultra cheesy. Here and elsewhere in the episode, the saxophone comes in to note city grittiness (gritty citiness?), so the luridness signified by the sax is still there in the link to crime.
Sharko has a nightmare while crashed out on his reclining chair, tortilla chips scattered artfully around his chest and belly. I wonder how that dream-vision actress feels about the camera introducing here by shooting up her nose and finding a booger. Is Sharko having a dream about his wife here blowing up in a white cadillac? The hazy flashback effect here makes it feel like it’s his mom … which makes sense when we finally see her later in the episode (shades of Psycho).
The next scene with criminal Victor Haas slinking through the Haas nightclub’s neon dance floor is ultra-cheesed out. Here are the lyrics from “Killer Instinct,” the song in the nightclub, as best as I can transcribe them: “I bet you your aim’s right on target tonight! / You got the [?] of instincts, don’t you? / You never walk the same line twice. / You wait around, wait for the kill, boy. / You know it feels so ni-ee-ice! / You got the [?] of instincts, don’t you? / You never make the same move twice. / You never miss the game for your best shot. / You know it feels so ri-eet. Yeah.” The Wax book notes that the vocals are by Robey (139), good evidence that her singing is nearly as bad as her acting. I also read that she paints and writes children’s books; they’re probably fantastic.
E: Holy crap.
K: Curious Goods and gang don’t appear until nearly ten minutes into the episode, with Ryan in the store reading a comic book behind a newspaper. (Why is he hiding it? I wonder if it is to stoke our sense of his feelings of inferiority to the men in Micki’s life, one of whom enters in this very scene.) The actor who plays Tim Ayers (Micki’s “friend” who sticks his tongue down her throat when they meet) is John Stockwell from John Carpenter’s Christine. I love him. Of course, he turns out to be a counterfeiter—what a dick. He represents everything gross about the 80s capitalist drive (and its thinly disguised criminal fakery). The fact that he then turns out to be undercover FBI felt a bit conventional on the part of the writers. Why not just let him be a dick?
The idea of Detective Sharko (great name) becoming a vigilante using the cursed badge is actually a strong one; I like him lurking and stalking criminals around the streets at night. But the character leans a little too close to ugly to make him all that sympathetic.
The sax is back! This time underscoring Micki and Tim’s make-out session in a nice combo of the criminal and sexuality.
The scenes with Sharko and his ailing wife are creepy as fuck. She’s on a heart monitor and constantly behind a plastic sheet from the waist up, her face shown only as a shadowy, smeared silhouette. The incessantly rotating, cob-webbed ceiling fan over the bed is a nice touch. This is intriguing Hitchcockian homage. (Although what it’s doing in the coked-up aesthetic of the rest of the episode is beyond me.)
A serial killer named Herbert Cooter, “the guy who thought he was Jesse James.” Come on. Was it only in the Midwest that “cooter” was (is still?) slang for vagina?
E: Heh. I am familiar with that slang, so...no.
K: We learn that Gwen (Sharko’s wife) was injured by Haas years ago. And of course this scene ends with the reveal that Gwen is a crusty corpse, moldering all these years in bed. This, and Sharko’s next move, punching a club girl (billed as “Hooker” in the credits), makes him an even more difficult character to be linked to. It’s interesting, though, that the badge as he uses it combines both the “bad” and “good” sides of the cursed object in one act. In other words, each murder isn’t payment for an outcome; it is both payment and desired outcome. When Haas gets it, for example, we’re onboard. And Sharko isn’t doing any of this for his own gain, aside from a bit of vengeance. But there’s no financial gain in his use of the badge. (Wax notes this, I just realize as I read page 143).
Wax describes this as her least favourite episode of the series. Despite its cheesiness, I beg to differ. I mean, it’s not good. Initially, I felt the episode’s supposedly gritty crime aesthetic was an uncomfortable blend with the neon dance club and the world of Micki and Ryan and cursed antiques. But the episode feels almost incontrovertibly ‘80s in this way. The addition of the oddly American Gothic bedroom scenes with Sharko’s corpse-wife really throws this episode off in a twisted way (a little more Psycho II, or, better, Psycho III than Psycho, but I’ll take it). There’s a lot going on here; too many ingredients maybe; not all of it works. But I think this is one we could write about in the sense that its unevenness speaks to an era (or eras, considering the odd quasi-pathos of the Psycho references).
E: Agreed. I actually think that’s the intention (see comments below). Unlike some of these episodes, there is a sense that Manning is going after a particular effect/aesthetic, even if it doesn’t always work.
E: OK, this was a total homage—although since it’s occurring simultaneously, does that qualify as a homage?—to 80s cop shows. It has it all: dark clubs, synth music, shiny outfits, vigilante cops with bosses who “don’t get it,” creepy crime lords with hookers and blow. Like the “Baron’s Bride” and the “Quilt of Hathor” episodes, this is clearly jumping on the by then well-established Miami Vice aesthetic, but weirdly, it works for me. There is a blend here that Manning (and Henshaw) achieves, beyond being an audition tape for later directing actual Miami Vice, of contrasting the 70s aesthetic of TV police (schlubby everyman/vigilante) with the 80s view embodied by Crockett and Tubbs: deep undercover, temptation, who is the real bad guy type stuff embodied by the “yuppie success story” Tim.
K: Agreed. Perhaps not homage so much as going for the throat of a current aesthetic. It’s almost like Manning sees it as a calling card to bid for a gig directing Miami Vice, a gig she got.
E: Like the other “guest” directors, Manning seems to not only bring her own aesthetic—and the episode is pretty well put together visually and thematically (eg, the song playing in the club at the start is thematically resonant to the episode as a whole)—but also follows Cronenberg and others in not bringing in the Curious Goods team until almost 10 minutes in. I liked the burnt-out effect of his memories of his wife, and while I was pretty sure there was a Rose for Emily sitch going on under the plastic tarp, it wasn’t immediately obvious...but was suggested by the Havisham-like state of Sharko’s house.
Obviously, given the episode’s focus on Death Wish style vigilantism, wrath seems to be the main component. He is literally “branding” the criminals with justice.
K: Yeah, this was the coolest.
E: Return of the sex sax! Like, all through the episode, from Tim and Micki’s dalliance to the scenes in the club. Seriously, did they raid the wardrobe department on the Miami Vice set? It was all sockless shoes (in Canada?) and rolled-up blazer sleeves.
Fire the continuity editor, Part 2: Micki had a thing with Tim last summer? Wasn’t she still with Lloyd? How much time has passed? Also, is Tim dead? ‘Cause she was weeping big time for Dewey, but Tim just gets a blank stare? Also, didn’t she get shot in the shoulder?
K: LOL, on all of it! This episode has so much cheese.
E: The return of the Micki/Ryan cousin love creepiness, now with added reciprocity! Ew. Suspicious of Tim, with the looks and the secretive phone calls? Understandable. Jealousy based on class issues (“yuppie success stories”)? Interesting take. To have Ryan dress like him (and slick his hair back), with an ending implies that this sartorial shift really is doing it for Micki? GROSS.
K: I thought I caught in this episode Micki referring to Ryan as like the cousin of her uncle Lewis, which might explain how they’re figuring this weird love interest angle.
Season 1, Episode 24: "Pipe Dream" (Zale Dalen, director; Marc Scott Zicree, writer)
The generation gap becomes a chasm of sadness.
The Goods: Ryan gets an invitation to his father Ray’s wedding; despite lingering resentment, he lets Micki talk him into attending. Unfortunately, Ray’s newfound success after years of failure is the result of a cursed pipe, given to him by Lewis, forcing everybody to make hard choices.
The Cheese: Actually, the episode is too sad to be truly cheesy.
The Sins: Pride, but Envy seems to drive a lot of the action.
Kristopher: The family connection to Lewis comes logically back here in the transfer of the pipe to Ryan’s father. I haven’t noticed this before with Zicree, probably the main writer on the show, but this script is tight, thematically and narratively. It’s a little, self-contained gem, and a viewer wouldn’t have to have seen the rest of the season or series to have an immediate sense of the characters’ relationships, including Ryan, Jack, and Micki.
The way Ryan’s father talks about “nerve gasses, stun guns,” not to mention his laser explosive gun with no other interest than money is typical of US dispassionate and non-empathic treatment of the rest of the world for its own gain. The sense of American exceptionalism is strong here. Ryan registers real discomfort with all this, and Ray hits him with an: Oh, “that’s right, you’re the artistic type.” The homophobic coding here is strong. This is a good bit of content to attach to a father-son feud along the lines of toxic masculinity. Ray’s stealing of the plans to the gun come off as a bid for power related to his own sense of potency (the designer is a much younger, handsomer man); Ray’s theft comes with praise, a plan to marry, a possible reconciliation with a son who might respect him, etc—the stakes are high for Ray. The posturing from Ray’s colleague at the factory seems again like a pissing contest. The script is really carefully structured around these male-male dynamics in terms of theme and narrative content. And this isn’t absent when the men go to the factory and the women (stepmom-to-be and Micki) stay home to prep for the wedding, sidetracked briefly by some photo albums—total “girl stuff.”
Erin: I noticed the “artistic type” coding too! And aside from the fact that the actor who plays Ray later plays the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the other guy in the pissing contest looks super familiar to me as well...I think he played this particular type in a lot of things.
K: In Ryan’s words, Ray’s “hunger” and “ambition” have always driven him. And because of this the wedding turns to a funeral. At the wake, Jack calls him “a proud man” and says: “When a man reaches the limits of this life there’s nowhere to maneuver.” The scene has real emotional heft, and the entire episode is pretty moving. In fact, it’s got the emotional weight that the prior episode lacked for Sharko. Here, it’s more complicated to love or hate Ray, since Ray really is the tragic man, always seeking fortune and respect but in the end having to steal it, even though it was always there in his son.
The Wax book has an interview with Zicree where he talks about the autobiographical aspects of the script: “My father [an aerospace engineer during the Vietnam era] so wanted to be important, to matter” (148). And of Ryan and Ray: “I could understand the corners the father had cut, because he was a little man who wanted to be a big man, wanted to be a hero to his family, but what he was doing was causing great harm to the world. It’s not that you start a monster, but that’s where you end up, because of those small compromises you make that ultimately become big compromises. That is what I was writing about in ‘Pipe Dream’” (Zicree, quoted in Wax 148). Zicree could be describing the context for every white old man running the US Senate right now: too tired to care, too terrified to lose power and privilege, too proud to show either of these as a weakness—so they blow shit up and alienate anyone not like them.
E: That’s fascinating; and the fact that Zicree tied his own experience into this may be why it’s so emotionally resonant. (Also: There’s a whole thing in Susan Faludi’s Stiffed that addresses this particular father/son dynamic around the aerospace industry. Well worth a read.)
K: The fact that the corporation in the episode is selling the weapons to a Spanish-speaking general is oddly both racist and productively critical of the U.S.’s practices then and now of supporting dictatorships with weapons sales (dictatorships that they will later denounce, possibly shooting other weapons [the ones they didn’t sell to them] at them).
E: See my comments below; the Iran-Contra hearings were running right around the time this would have been filmed. One thing in its favor: check out shows like Miami Vice or movies like Romancing the Stone (or even comedies like Innerspace) and the way they portray pretty much anyone from South America. This episode looks positively restrained in comparison. (I’m not defending any of it, but it stuck out as someone who watched a lot of subpar things in my wasted youth.)
K: For me, this is a key episode in that it develops one of the main characters and ties things in to the Louis Vendredi history. It’s also a really tightly scripted episode in terms of content and theme, and even gets into a political, anti-capitalist, anti-military industrial complex critique that it ties to masculinity and the rifts between fathers and sons. Both this and “Tales of the Undead” capture the essence of the series, with “Faith Healer” running a close third.
E: Whoa. There are certain moments where a series takes a giant leap forward, where everything: writing, direction, performance, is just next level. Buffy’s “Surprise/Innocence” two-parter was one example; this is another. Whether it continues to improve (like Buffy did) or not remains to be seen, but you were absolutely right in what you told me; this is one of the best episodes so far. It moved! I mean, as you know, some of these season-one episodes have been a slog, but this one just roared ahead and engrossed me.
I think one reason it worked so well is because it might be one of the first “Curious Goods” crew backstory episode that seemed truly organic. (“Brain Drain” worked fairly well, because Jack’s past is pretty obscure and so it didn’t come out of nowhere), but “Pipe Dream” is different because actually answers questions about why Ryan is the way he is (kind, a bit childish, a dreamer, and kind of needy) that have already been established, and gives them a turn of the screw that I didn’t see coming but also makes perfect sense.
It also does a bit of another Buffy trick too; metaphors aplenty! The cursed object is a pipe, with the episode title thus working on numerous levels: the pipe helps Ray achieve his dream of success and wealth and the term “pipe dream” as one of chasing unrealistic expectations. Ray’s potential fortune being built on weapons manufacturing/death and destruction (and Ryan’s distaste for it) offers a nice generational commentary...and both the cursed object and the weapons both rely on death and suffering for success. (It doesn’t seem accidental that the “pipe smoke” and its effects seem similar to things like napalm.)
K: Nice observation!
E: I also can’t help but think that the fact these weapons were being sold to South American clients was not lazy and vaguely racist scriptwriting, but a reference to the Iran-Contra hearings being held at the time this episode would have been filmed. Also, it taps into the sadness of the “Del Boy” thing Ray has going on; the metaphoric noose of dying without ever achieving one’s “dream.”
K: I don’t know the “Del Boy” reference!
E: Other things: Given the emotional content of the episode, nobody went over the top (even Robey!) in their performances, or at least not in such a way that took me out of the moment. Everybody was actually smart about things, including Micki taping up the door to prevent the smoke from getting in. The question of influence: Ray’s dad leaves him; Ryan and Ray are estranged, and Ray’s mentor is the bitter and (eventually) evil Lewis, while Ryan has Jack to look up to. Also, I can’t help but think, on the generational thing, that Ray’s crack about Ryan being the “artistic type” was code for assuming Ryan was gay...which gives a whole other resonance to Ray’s later admission that he was “angry” at Ryan. Finally, Jack’s assessment of aging—“a narrow bridge over a long dark drop”—was chilling.
K: I didn’t catch this, but it’s the most poetic line the series has offered thus far!
E: Can it sustain this level of quality?
Critical Rewatch #1
Friday the 13th: The Series aired in syndication from 1987 to 1990. It boasts a large fanbase but almost no scholarly commentary. This episode-by-episode critical blog on the series is part of a research project by Erin Giannini and Kristopher Woofter that will include the series in a scholarly monograph on horror anthology TV series in the Reagan era.