Jesse and Street Hawk are out on a little late night test run when Norman picks up a call on the police band. An officer is in pursuit of two men in a stolen Ferrari and its “blocker”, a driver in another car who acts as a lookout and plays interference. Jesse intercepts the Ferrari and begins a high speed chase through a series of winding back alleys. As the Ferrari exits one of the alleys, the blocker suddenly appears, forcing Jesse to make a dead stop. The Ferrari escapes, but the blocker careens out of control, killing the driver as the car crashes and bursts into flames. Unable to do anything else, Jesse flees the scene before the police arrive.
The drivers deliver the Ferrari to a chop shop and make a nervous trek into the office of the operation’s head man, Burton Levine (Robert Lipton). They break the news that Nicky, the blocker and Levine's kid brother, is dead. Clearly fearful that Levine will hold them responsible, the two embellish the story to make it seem as if Street Hawk killed Nicky on purpose. Levine vows to kill Street Hawk.
Back at base, Jesse find Norman testing out a new machine gun. Under orders from Washington, Street Hawk is about to get a weapons upgrade. But all work and no play makes Norman a dull boy, so Jesse drags his buddy out for a little fresh air and fun at the beach. After a roller-skating fiasco has Norman ready to head back to the comfort of his lab, a Porsche comes screaming onto the boardwalk. After the smoke clears, a familiar face to both Jesse and us emerges. It's George Clooney as Kevin “Starker” Stark, an old friend of Jesse’s from his motor-cross days, who's just gotten into town. After a brief reunion, the two drag Norman around the boardwalk for a montage of "boys will be boys" hijinks and competition. Norman eventually begs off and the pair reminisce a bit more before Starker has to leave for a business meeting. Unbeknownst to Jesse, the business is Street Hawk. Unbeknownst to Starker, Jesse is Street Hawk.
Levine has brought in hot shot driver Starker to drive a supped up, jet-black car and act as a blocker in a series of hit and run thefts meant to draw out Street Hawk so Levine can exact his revenge. Starker, dubbed “The Phantom Driver” by the press, executes a series of daring daylight robberies with Levine's men, which lead to several high speed police chases. The results are thousands of dollars in property damage, five injured officers, and wavering public confidence. This doesn't sit well with Commander Altobelli, who lashes out at his press relations team, led by Rachel Adams (Jeannie Wilson, replacing the character of Sandy McCoy, played by Jayne Modean in the pilot) for not being able to spin the story in their favor.
Jesse is now Hell-bent on catching the Phantom Driver, but Norman cautions him that the pattern looks designed to pull Street Hawk out into the open and set him up for some sort of trap. Jesse doesn't listen and sets off to patrol the streets, waiting for the Phantom to strike again. He doesn't have to wait long and Street Hawk and The Phantom soon find themselves in a high speed mano y mano duel in the sun, ripping through the streets of LA in broad daylight. It culminates in a face-to-face showdown, but before either can - or will - act, the police arrive and both are forced to flee.
Back at HQ, Norman chastises Jesse for not taking The Phantom out. Jesse contends that the time wasn't right. “The guy is good. Real good,” Jesse says, but he’s ready for a re-match. Norman notes that the arrival of Kevin has re-awakened a reckless competitive streak in Jesse. Needing to blow off some steam, Jesse skips on his physical training and drags Norman along for a little motor-cross action.
Across town, a similar scene is taking place in Levine’s office. He’s not happy that Starker didn't take Street Hawk out when he had the chance, but Starker tells Levine that, in order to take Street Hawk out, he needed that test run to see what he was up against, to find Street Hawk's weakness.
Jesse and Norman arrive with a pair of bikes at a deserted motor-cross track and are soon joined by Starker. Jesse and Starker suit up and engage in a nip and tuck race which further stokes their competitive fires. As Jesse is poised to win, Starker nudges his back tire, causing Jesse to crash as Starker crosses the finish line. Norman races to Jesse, fearing the man may have re-injured his leg. Jesse is okay, but he’s fuming at his old friend, who instantly feels remorse for letting his ego get the best of him. Back at Jesse’s apartment, the two reconcile before Starker departs for his last bit of business.
Levine has set a trap for Street Hawk. Starker will once again lure him out into the open and lead him to a junk yard owned by one of Levine’s associates, where Levine and his men will be waiting to ambush Street Hawk. All goes according to plan until one of the men opens fire on Street Hawk, forcing Jesse from the bike and causing him to lose his helmet. Starker, seeing that Street Hawk is Jesse, races in to help his now vulnerable friend, but is himself shot several times by Levine’s men. Jesse, unable to talk to Norman without his helmet, manages to make it to Street Hawk and use the newly installed machine guns and rockets to take out Levin and his men. He then races to Starker’s side and makes peace with his friend before Starker dies.
A few days later, after Starker’s funeral, Norman gives Jesse a gold chain on which hangs a fifty peso gold piece, an artifact from one of Jesse and Starker’s adventures. Jesse smiles and heads for the door. When Norman asks where he’s going, Jesse tells him Mexico. As the sun sets, Jesse arrives on a deserted beach. After a moment, he tosses the peso into the ocean.
The pilot episode of Street Hawk got by more on its premise - a hi-tech, crime fighting motorcycle - than its plot - white guys in suits robbing police vans. “A Second Self” improves upon the pilot by not only delivering exciting action sequences, but also adding a clever twist to its standard “white guy in a suit wants revenge” plot. A twist that not only makes everything more personal, but also tighter and more focused. There’s very little wasted motion here as everything dovetails nicely together, with character development walking hand in hand with the plot and both segueing smoothly with the action.
The parallel relationship between Jesse and Starker and Street Hawk and The Phantom Driver is exceptionally clever and well done. The one-upsmanship between the various identities becomes exponential, eventually reaching critical a mass.
Clooney - who actually tested for the role of Jesse Mach and was the first choice of creator/executive producer Bob Wolterstorff before being nixed by the network - brings his now trademark charm to the role of Starker. He’s cocky and reckless, but does it all with a smile that forces us to forgive him. He’s the kind of guy who could steal our girl and we would just go “Oh, you!” The episode also allows for some bonding between Jesse and Norman outside of the Street Hawk project and Smith and Regalbuto showcase a natural chemistry with one another.
As I mentioned, the action sequences are again fantastic. Like the pilot, the chases are tight, well-choreographed, and exciting. And I liked that the bulk of the action actually takes place during the day, adding a High Noon feel to The Phantom and Street Hawk’s showdowns.
One of the disappointing aspects of the episode is that it failed to fully integrate Jesse’s day job into the plot. Jeannie Wilson isn't involved in the story at all, only getting a few scenes and couple of token lines, and no mention is made of the change in characters from the pilot. It’s tough to say if she and Smith have any chemistry but, in her few scenes, it was clear she brings more maturity to the role than Modean did.
The way they handle Jesse’s leg injury is also a letdown. He makes precious little effort to keep up appearances here, whether it's roller skating with Norman at the beach, sprinting into Altobelli’s office, or racing dirt bikes with Starker. And yet no one ever says “Hey, Jesse, what happened to that limp?” If he can do these things in full view of the public, what’s keeping him from going back on street patrol? Yet they don’t hesitate to pull out the leg injury angle when Starker causes Jesse to crash and he immediately grabs his leg. As much as I hate to admit it, Noel may have been right on this one. I can’t see Noel right now, but I can guarantee he’s mouthing the words “I told you so.”
But overall, “A Second Self” is a strong episode with a nice balance of humor, action, character development, and some by God pathos!
During the beach montage, we get a catchy pop song titled “Jump On It”, but my research didn’t turn up anything in terms of an artist. If anyone has any more information on this song, please let us know.
I told you so!
We all know that the first episodes of shows often rejigger little aspects from the pilot here and there, usually because they're filmed several months later, after some cast shakeups, budget renegotiations, and some extra time to think about things. It's no real surprise to see much the same happening here in Jeannie Wilson's character (I agree with Tony, she's completely useless so far), as well as a bit of an upgrade on the bike from the legendary designer Ron Cobb. I like that it's a colder gray and that the jumping thrusters have visible jets of air, but I'm not fond of these stirrup shields added to the sides that bulk out the silhouette and make it less aerodynamic. That said, the action is still great, and I agree with Tony that it all plays well in the clear light of day.
But then there's the leg. I'm not going to keep harping on my complaints from the first episode because, by this point, it's established cannon and there's nothing subsequent episodes can do about it, but this episode feels like it's trying to dance around the issue in a messy "have cake, eat too" manner. The opening tag still says Jessie was injured in the line of duty, and Norman does at one point worry about Jesse breaking his leg "again", but no mention is made of the knee or the prosthesis. And any illusion that Jesse is still held up by his condition is completely gone, with him going all over the place in public without the brace, the cane, or the limp, even bouncing around the office, the picture of pure fitness and health. Why he's still off the motorcycle squad is a complete mystery. Even if he had injured his knee, it's obviously healed to a point where it's not physically restraining him from performing duties that are often in real life performed by cops who aren't 100% in shape. In trying to smooth over a logic gaff from the pilot, they've opened up one that's just as, if not more, glaring. I'm curious to see where they take it from here.
All that said, I love this episode. The entire Starker storyline is very well executed and provides much more of an emotional punch than I expected. There are parts of me that want to criticise it for hitting all the "old friend shows up who I now have to fight" cliches and the somewhat missed opportunity of putting a capper on Starker when he could be an interesting character to revisit as an occasionally recurring foil, but what we have here is nailed to near perfection. From their early Mentos commercial bro date at the carnival to the final death in a friend's arms, I was so thoroughly pulled into the plot that I wasn't even distracted by the blond highlights in the mop of 80s hair on Clooney's trademark bobbing head. I especially like that Starker isn't evil. He sometimes takes his risks too far, but in a way he acknowledges and regrets. When he forces Jesse off the road during their race, he goes back and admits it was his fault. When he agrees to help trap and kill Street Hawk, it's only because he believes the vigilante was responsible for the death of Levine's brother. When he learns that Jesse is the heroic biker, he doesn't hesitate to put himself in the line of fire to protect his friend. This rogue sense of heroism, of finding ways to show there's a pure and noble heart in this man who never found the right outlet to curb the more impulsive aspects of his nature, is what makes his death all the more tragic, and the bittersweet ending of Jesse sending his friend off with a final farewell really impressed me.
Tony's right that Levine is a forgettable nemesis, but that doesn't really bother me as he's only the means through which Starker and Jesse are set in opposition. I also like the added weight he does faintly bring (could have been more, I'll agree) of a villain who has genuine reasons to hate Street Hawk, who goes from a simple hood running a car boosting operation to a man obsessed with the eradication of the man responsible (he believes) for the death of his brother. Through Starker, Levine learns about the vigilante's strategy and techniques, and concocts a final ambush (amazing junkyard location) that should have worked. Yes, the villain was fully capable and would have succeeded had Starker not seen the face of his friend and turned the tide. Even then, the show gains further weight as the only way the hero can save the day is through death. Jessie can't set a trap or string these villains up for the cops to find. All he has time for is a quick aim and the flick of a trigger, and one goon is gunned down, and another is taken out by a rocket which sends a wall of debris crashing onto a third. It's sudden. It's violent. It's honest. And you can see on Jesse's face that, while it was a fully defensible action, it's left a weight on him, especially when he has to leave the bloody corpse of his friend amidst the carnage so as to escape the sirens of a police force just as eager to take down Street Hawk as they are the criminals.
A few small thoughts:
- I'm with Tony in continuing to love the chemistry between Rex Smith and Joe Regalbuto as Jesse tries to take Norman out of the lab to have a little fun.
- There's some nice directorial flourishes in there, one of my favorites being Lt. Altobelli inadvertently blowing out the candles of his birthday cake with a dismissive wave of his arm.
- That said, Richard Venture still looks completely uninterested in the character of Altobelli and pretty much just barks a few times to make sure we remember he's there.
- In addition to "Jump On It", I noticed a few of the montages (Starker stealing cars, the dirtbike race) had DVD filler music in place of what were likely additional pop tunes. I'd love to know what they were.
Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Street Hawk adventure in "The Adjuster".
If you'd like to watch along with us, the entire series is available in a DVD set which can be purchased through Amazon US, Amazon CA, or Amazon UK.