December 17, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 6: "Fire on the Wing"

In the dead of night, Jesse and Street Hawk stand poised above the city. A nearby factory explodes. Jesse races to the scene, but is unable to do anything and flees as fire trucks arrive. It seems this is the latest in a recent rash of warehouse arsons that have erupted across the city, and with no suspects or leads, both Street Hawk and the authorities are left spinning their collective wheels.

At Police HQ, Altobelli has arranged to meet with the victims of the fires. First up is Will Gassner (Clu Gulager) and his daughter and business partner, Diana (Kristen Meadows). Like the rest of the victimized Businessman’s Association, Gassner isn’t interested in cooperating with the police. Jesse and Diana try to calm their respective parties down as Altobelli lays it on the table, suggesting the victims are being extorted for protection money. Gassner mockingly feigns ignorance and leaves. Gassner spots Rachel on her way out and it's revealed to Jesse that Gassner has offered her a job. Outside police HQ, Gassner and Diana run into Nick (Hank Brandt) and Morgan Harkness (Tige Andrews), two other members of the Businessman’s Association. Gassner reminds them that the police can’t offer any protection and implores them to stand firm.

At Central Command, Jesse finds Norman pouring over surveillance tapes of the firebombing with identigraph technology. Norman is able to determine that, just before the building exploded, an ultralight aircraft swept past. While Norman works on a low level radar for the command center, Jesse heads over to a local ultralight dealership to investigate. His queries pique the curiosity of Eddie (Jere Burns), who is working on a ultralight nearby. While the salesman gets Jesse prepared for a test flight, Eddie sneaks into Jesse’s car and finds his badge, the. sabotages the test craft. Jesse takes off and it's not long before a support bolt on the wing comes loose. With a crowded park closing in below, Jesse manages to crash land the craft without injuring anyone, including himself.

At Gassner's office, Eddie approaches and gives him one last chance to pay up. Gassner refuses and storms into the building. Rachel is waiting for him in side and he quickly calms down, again makes his pitch to her over both the job and dinner at his place. Rachel is still unsure but agrees to dinner. Outside, Eddie meets with the real mastermind, Morgan Harkness. Gassner has again refused to pay, so Harkness tells Eddie to hit Gassner closer to home.

Diana shows up at Jesse’s office and, over Chinese food, explains why her father hates police. Years ago, when Gassner was starting out, he was similarly pressured for protection money. He gave in, but the extortionists kept upping the price until they wanted to become full partners. Gassner went to the police for help and the extortionists blew up his business. With his wife inside. The insurance money helped build his current business fortune, but the experience left him unwilling to ever pay protection money while also believing the police would be unable to offer genuine protection.

Norman picks up an ultralight on his new radar. While Norman tracks the craft, Jesse suits up and Street Hawk kicks into hyperthrust. Gassner and Rachel are having their dinner at his house as the ultralight closes in and eventually firebombs the place. A large beam falls on Gassner, and Rachel is unable to free him. Street Hawk crashes through the front windows and uses it's laser to cut the beam and free Gassner.

The collective will of the Businessman’s Association is broken, but Gassner still refuses to budge. At Eddie suggestion, Harkness escalates the pressure by having Diana kidnapped. A broken Gassner shows up at police HQ and finally begs for their help, especially since he's really broke and has no way to pay their demands. Jesse slips away and heads for the Command Center.

At the ultralight hanger, Eddie has a knocked-out Diana in the back of the car while Harkness makes plans to head out of state for an alibi. Diana comes to and, despite her bonds, scrambles to the front seat and plows the car through the wall, racing off into the desert. Harkness and another man pursue in a jeep while Eddie takes to the air in his ultralight, attempting to take out the vehicle with his firebombs. Street Hawk arrives, disabling the jeep and blowing Eddie out of the air. After assuring Diana that police are on their way, Street Hawk speeds off.

At police HQ, Rachel and Diana discuss their encounters with Street Hawk, each feeling as if he somehow already knew them. Rachel accepts another dinner invite from Gassner, but Jesse declines Diana's invite when they decide to go out as a group. He doesn't like to share his fortune cookie with more than one person.


If the lack of White Guys in Suits in last week’s episode left you in need of a fix, you’re in luck, because this week they’re back and whiter than ever! Seriously, is there a Whiter or more Suity White Guys in Suits plot than one businessman strong-arming an entire Businessman’s Association? The only thing that could’ve out Whited it is if the action had taken place at a golf course or a Pat Boone concert. The one saving grace is that someone, some genius, decided to add a firebombing ultralight aircraft into the plot.

In order to avoid having the A.S.P.C.A. come down on me for beating a dead horse, I’m going to (try and) avoid making the same “why this doesn’t work” points I’ve made in the past. Last week, I resolved to try and enjoy the show for what it is, and to that end, I’ll begin with what does work in “Fire On the Wing”.

The stunt work on this show, almost always top notch to this point, went to another level here. Specifically the scene where Jesse takes the ultralight out for a doomed test flight. It’s a tense, white-knuckle sequence ending in a spectacular crash without any f/x cheats... unless you count the close-ups of Rex Smith with a fan blowing in his face. And although he may look like the poster child for White Guys in Suits, the always watchable Clu Gulager gives a really good performance, shifting effortlessly between strong-willed executive and charming self-made man. And Rachel is finally given something to do besides fetch Altobelli doughnuts. Sadly, it also exposes the fact that Jeannie Wilson, while certainly attractive and likeable, is a bit stiff as an actress.

As for what doesn’t work... pretty much everything else. The would be romance between Jesse and Diana lacks any semblance of heat, purpose, or resolution. Norman isn’t involved in any substantial way beyond manning the Command Center. And after a couple of whiz-bang action sequences (Jesse’s ill-fated flight in the ultralight, Street Hawk’s rescue of Will and Rachel from a burning house), the final showdown falls a bit flat, with Street Hawk dispatching his opponents in rather boring fashion.

Review, I'll make a list out of you:
  • After five episodes (if you remember, Rachel wasn’t in the pilot), I’m starting to get the feeling that the “will they/won’t they” romantic chemistry I just assumed would take place between Jesse and Rachel isn’t going to happen. Thus far, there hasn’t even been a hint of flirting or sexual tension between the two. They’re just a man and woman who work together. It’s kind of refreshing.
  • However, it is falling into a “girl of the week” pattern with Jesse, making it increasingly difficult to care about the romantic sub-plots that you ultimately know aren’t going anywhere.
  • If you’re thinking that it’s a bit of a stretch for someone to walk in off the street and test fly an ultralight without training or a license, think again. I looked it up and the F.A.A. doesn’t require someone to have either to fly an ultralight aircraft in the United States.
  • I can’t help but wonder, where is the oversight on the Street Hawk project? Norman occasionally makes mention of Washington, but you’d think he and Jesse would have some sort of liaison they had to report to. In the opening narration, it says, “Only one man, Federal Agent Norman Tuttle, knows Jesse Mach’s true identity.” I’d never taken that literally before, but maybe it’s true. Either way, I’d like that aspect of the story fleshed out a bit more.
In spite of a couple well-executed action sequences and a nice turn by Clu Gulager, “Fire on the Wing” is a rather lifeless and uninspired effort. I’ve given up my earlier demand for bigger stakes in favor of some good old fashioned fun. I’m still waiting on that, though.


After a middling episode last week, this round was a great return to form. Yeah, Tony, I'm disagreeing with you again as I found this a very well crafted and deep episode that expertly mixed character drama with stunt spectacle action.

The "White Guys in Suits" label is an easy thing to throw at a show like this, but the baddies fitting that mold don't inherently make them or their plot uninteresting or irrelevant. White collar crime is still a crime and, dang it, I found this take really interesting as a literal war is launched on the warehousing business, with the Business Association banding together as best they can, never realizing that one of their own is the mastermind behind this plot to milk his competitors dry. It's greed, pure greed that drives Morgan Harkness, and nothing more is needed than that as he thinks he's come up with the perfect way to tear down the others, and he absolutely would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for that meddling Street Hawk. And even then, it's easy to give orders to blow up a warehouse, it's another to kill a person up close, and you can see that momentary fear at how far the situation has escalated when Eddie has the kidnapped Diana in his hands, but greed ultimately wins out and he stoically decides to see her dead when she escapes. The cast, the writing, the direction (yet another episode by Virgil W. Vogel, who I'm quickly becoming a fan of) all dive into these potential bland parts and find moments to accentuate to give them depth and make them memorable.

Which leads us to Will Gassner, the heart of the drama. This dude is fascinating in the way he's been screwed over from all sides and now loathes the cops just as much as he does the crooks, blaming both for his wife's death. This is a man proud of his business, proud of his accomplishments, who's sick and tired of other people weaseling their way into a cut they don't deserve and others offering protection the letter of the law ultimately prevents them from fully delivering. I love Clu Gulager and his unique look and delivery and voice. He typically plays out-there nutty comical roles, but when you put him in something dramatic like this, he never fails to bring his A game as he perfectly captures a noble and stubborn businessman who never had an easy break and scoffs in the face of any that are offered, who doesn't mind doing things the hard way because, hell, that's the story of his life.

And, yeah, I really liked the romantic angle, too. Both of them. Rachel still isn't a driving force to the plot, but they found a great way to feature her and Gulager also brings a very believable charm to his character as he slowly draws Rachel into his home and business with the genuine hopes of having her join him in one or both capacities. You can totally see the allure of both for Rachel, the successful business that she could totally prosper in and the man she has an obvious bond with. By the end, we know she sticks with the department the work she does there is more important to her than the paycheck, but you never know when it comes to the relationship. Unless we see her dating someone else in the next seven episodes, I'd like to think she and Gassner kept at it and slowly formed into something. Again, the production and cast all melded together beautifully (no, I didn't fine Jeannie Wilson all that stiff) to create something that felt natural and real. As for Jesse and Diana, they're two young, driven, passionate people, and you can see the attraction, but we know it's not a relationship that will last. The episode acknowledges it, treating them as a potentially fun fling instead of instant soulmates, and I have no problem with that. Also Kristen Meadows was fantastic as Diana, having her father's drive and intelligence, but not as stubborn and closed to outside options. Other than the tragic 80s workout leotard she's kidnapped in, I thought she really handled herself well, especially when she launches a surprisingly successful escape while still tied up.

So, yeah, this was another winner for me in the character and story department. And the action, wow! The only bit that felt a little forced was Street Hawk busting into the burning home as there wasn't much for him to do but laser the fallen beam and lead them out, but the two sequences involving the ultralight were amazing. Jesse stuntman on the sabotaged ultralight, spiraling over a very real ground, swinging out of his seat as best he can to reach back and grab the loosened pieces that are falling apart. It's beautifully shot, expertly choreographed, and absolutely harrowing. The climactic battle, I'll admit, wasn't quite as strong as it too closely mirrored the helicopter battle at the end of "Vegas Run", but it was still very well put together with a good dusty car chase as the ultralight swooping in over things to launch the occasional rocket. And I didn't have a problem with Jesse finally getting a chance to simply shoot thing thing down, and again pausing for a moment to take in the fact that he's added another tally to his personal body count.

This is a solid episode, a perfect example of the type of stories this series was trying to tell, and I was with it from beginning to end. And, yeah, Norman was a little pushed to the side, but not every character can be a driving force of every story and this was Rachel's turn to take a bit of the spotlight. At least they still kept him involved through his radar addition and background checks. It worked. Realistically, what more could you have done with him?

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Street Hawk adventure in "Chinatown Memories".

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.

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