December 31, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 8: "The Unsinkable 453"

Eric Gault (Mayf Nutter) loses an appeal for a new trial. On his way back to prison, the transport bus is attacked by men launching teargas grenades through the windshield. Norman picks up an emergency signal and alerts Street Hawk. The guards get the prisoners off of the bus as another tear gas grenade lands amongst them. In the confusion, Gault rolls under the bus. On the other side is a look-alike who rolls back under the bus and takes Gault’s place while Gault gets into a waiting van. Street Hawk shows up in time to see Gault flee and pursues the van down an alley. He's halted by a fire bomb until Norman reassures Jesse both his suit and the motorcycle are fireproof. Street Hawk rides through the flames, but the van has vanished.

The press grill Altobelli about Street Hawk, then ask about the prison transport assault. He assures the press that all prisoners are accounted for. When the conference is over, Altobelli assigns Jesse and Rachel to crack the identity of Street Hawk. Instead, Jesse leaves the task to a frustrated Rachel while he calls Norman and asks him to pull the tape. Norman identifies Gault as a mercenary and Jesse goes to the prison to investigate, only to be told that Gault died that day in a kitchen fire.

Since Gault was known for his relationship with Simone Prevera (Bianca Jagger), the widow of an overthrown South American dictator, Norman tracks her down and Jesse goes to speak with her. She says she blames Gault for her husband’s death and seems pleased that Gault has died. Jesse leaves and Simone goes inside, where Gault is waiting. She takes him to a pier and shows him a large ship that had been on loan to her government by the U.S. Navy. When her husband was ousted, she had all the money removed from the treasury and hidden inside the hull. Her plan is to have Gault lead a team to retrieve the money before the Navy uses the boat for target practice.

Looking for hard evidence, but barred from investigating Gault by Altobelli, Jesse convinces Norman to go down to the morgue with him, where he pulls a scam on the attendant while Norman sneaks in and gets the prints. Jesse takes them to Bernie in forensics to identify.

Gault and his men break into a warehouse to steal some weaponry for their mission. A signal goes off and Street Hawk responds. The police get there first and Gault and his men open fire on them, causing one of the cruisers to flip and catch fire. Street Hawk arrives, but loses Gault when he stops to help free the trapped officer.

At Simone Prevera’s estate, Gault finds Mrs. Prevera eating breakfast alone and, despite her protests, sits down and helps himself to some of her food food. Simone politely offers to get him some coffee but, as she passes by her henchman, she says she wants Gault dead once the job is finished, and that she wants to watch.

Bernie tells Jesse that the prints belong to a William Blandon. Jesse heads to Blandon’s home, where the door is answered by a woman pointing a gun. He disarms her, tells her Blandon is dead, and she confesses that Blandon had agreed to switch places with Gault for a large sum of money. When Jesse asks where they money came from, she points him to Simone Prevera. Jesse calls Norman, who urges him to use Street Hawk but Jesse insists on going alone.

When Jesse arrives at Prevera’s estate, he’s knocked cold and captured, Prevera instructing her man to tie Jesse up in the garage to question later. After Prevera, Gault, and his team leave, Jesse comes to in the garage and uses the blade on a nearby mower to cut his bonds. He then tries to break the door down, only for it to start opening from outside. Jesse rushes out, only to find he's tackled Norman, who was worried Jesse might be in trouble. Jesse chastises Norman for coming to Prevera’s house alone and Norman chides Jesse for not using Street Hawk, then they head back to the Command Center.

Gault and his team arrive at the shipyard and break in. Street Hawk is on the way and Jesse asks Norman to activate Hyperthrust, but can’t get the go ahead due to heavy traffic. Norman finally find a clear route and triggers the system, sending Jesse and Street Hawk rocketing through a maze of bumper to bumper traffic.

After Gault and his men retrieve the money from the ship, Prevera man pulls a gun on him. Realizing he’s been had, Gault takes the gun and forces Prevera and the team inside the boat's cabin. He locking them in, takes the money, and starts to flee but Street Hawk arrives and a chase ensues. Gault crashes the van into crates and starts chasing after Street Hawk with a grenade launcher, but Street Hawk gets the better of him with its own rockets, launching the mercenary into the water. Harbor patrol arrive and Street Hawk races off while they round up Gault, Prevera, and the imprisoned team.

At police headquarters, Rachel tells Jesse that the department psychologist was able to a psychological profile of Street Hawk, that he’s likely suffering an acute schizophrenic neurosis brought on by a pre-adolescent trauma. In laymen’s terms, he’s a real wacko and a total loser. Jesse smiles and tells her that nobody is perfect.


After last week’s melodramatic Christmas ham, Street Hawk rings in the new year with a simple meat and potatoes dish. “The Unsinkable 453” is an uneven episode, but it sees the series return to form in a few key areas.

This is easily the most stylish episode since the pilot. Director Kim Manners - who would go on to great success as a TV director and producer for such shows as The X-Files and Supernatural, before his untimely death in 2009 - adds a nice dash of cinematic flair. The opening chase between Street Hawk and the police sees the cop car drive right over camera, an elevator door closing leads into a similar wipe to the next scene, and the Hyperthrust sequence in the finale puts Street Hawk in the middle of bumper to bumper traffic, with the bike weaving in and out of the metal maze before sprinting into the open and some interesting new vistas not seen in the show before. And speaking of Hyperthrust, it was also a nice touch to actually see it come up as “Blocked” for once. The show takes place in the grid-lock capital of America, and no matter what time of day or night the action takes place, Street Hawk is all too typically cleared to blaze through the streets of Los Angles in excess of 300 MPH.

The script is razor thin on plot and character, and chock full of enough plot holes and implausibilities (seriously, no one is guarding the boat?) to choke an elephant, but at least it ditches the WGIS set-up and is always moving forward. Scenes are brief and economical, advancing the plot from A to B, B to C and so on. Even the camera always seems to be moving. It’s as if Manners realized he didn’t have much story to work with, and rather than trying to pad it out with filler, he decided just to keep things brisk. The result isn’t always emotionally engaging, but it keeps things from getting bogged down in the kind of leaden exposition that helped to derail episodes like “Fire On the Wing”.

The two main guest stars are interesting for different reasons. Pot-bellied and mustachioed Mayf Nutter (which sounds like the name of an Israeli candy bar) looks more like an 80s porn star than a crack commando. Actually, an 80s porn star is a kind of “crack commando” if you think about it, but I digress. Anyway, he does a fairly good job of being oily and loathsome, but the idea of this man being a soldier of fortune is about as plausible as Wilford Brimley being a former ballet dancer. Bianca Jagger, primarily known for having been married to rock star Mick Jagger, brings a smoldering intensity to her role. Her performance is a bit one note but I totally bought into her as a woman pushed to the bleeding edge of her personal tolerance as she seduces a man she loathes in order to get what she really wants.

And, of course, there’s the requisite “What about Rachel and Altobelli?” question. The episode actually starts out with a lot of promise as the press are again hounding Altobelli about Street Hawk and he in turn renews his vow to remove the thorn in his side once and for all. To that end, he puts Rachel and Jesse on the case. Jesse, of course, has his own agenda and there’s a recurring thread about Jesse always being off doing his own thing while Rachel tries to finally crack the identity of Street Hawk. But in the end, Rachel’s participation doesn’t add up to much and Altobelli’s role is merely functionary. However, I did like how they worked Norman into the story, getting him out into the field in a way that added comic relief and put another layer on the foundation of his growing friendship with Jesse. And it’s always a treat when perpetually harried forensics man Bernie Goldberg makes an appearance.

Did someone order an extra-large sausage list (wacka-chicka-wacka-chicka)?
  • The judge is played by actress Morgan Lofting, best known for providing the voice of the Baroness for the original 80s G.I. Joe animated series, as well as its 90s follow-up.
  • By the ghost of Robert Goulet, there is an impressive array of mustaches on display in this episode! Along with Nutter, you have Nutter's look-a-like, a nutter another Nutter look-a-like in Wayne Powers as Prevera’s henchman, and another uncredited member of Nutter’s commando team, all of whom are sporting some serious ‘stache. For a second, I had to check and make sure I wasn’t watching Bambi Does Baltimore. Again.
  • There aren’t any pop songs in this episode and only one instance - during Jesse’s drive over to Prevera’s house - that I felt may have contained replacement music. In my head, I replaced it with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones to be ironic.


I'm with Tony in finding this one of the more purely entertaining episodes of the season. He's right in taking a moment to spotlight director Manners a bit because there's a lot of thought and skill put into his helming of this episode. All of the action is choreographed well, the hyperthrust sequences are especially heightened with new full view shots of Street Hawk at high speeds, there's great bits of character business, and even moments like Francine, a one-scene character learning the man she loves fell into a trap that cost him his life, are staged (excellent use of handheld camera and natural lighting glares) to make her and her trauma instantly memorable. And this episode is at its best when Jessie and Norman constantly bicker as the scientist is first dragged unwillingly into the field, then gets a bit brazen and tails Jesse himself; or the ultimately empty yet entertaining bits of Jesse ducking out of his assignment with Rachel as she becomes increasingly fed up with him; or that we finally see the a bit of the rivalry between Street Hawk and the police as we open on him being pursued by a cruiser, bookended by the later scene of him stopping to help the officers pry their own out of the burning car.

The problem is when we get to the main plot. The wealth of a fallen dictator is stored between the hulls of a ship scheduled for target practice demolition. That's a great setup, but ultimately feels a bit lifeless as there's no real threat of a ticking clock. It's in the military's hands, yet (excepting the moment Street Hawk shows up) we never see the massive munitions Gault steals for the mission come into play as, aside from a single chain-link fence, there's nothing really between them and the boat. And let's talk about Gault. I don't entirely mind him having an unassuming everyman look about him, as that's actually true of many mercenaries who like to blend into their surroundings when not in action, and it does make finding an unassuming body double all that much easier. But Mayf Nutter? Really? With his stache and puffy helmet hair, not to mention his odd head-bobbing swagger delivery, he comes off more like the third uncle cut from the initial stages of filming the Full House pilot. There's nothing threatening about this man, nothing interesting or intimidating, nothing that sells him as the meticulous, strategic expert so perfectly suited for this mission that they absolutely had to spring him from the joint instead of using their own seemingly equally effective people. Hell, that moustached goon who looks a lot like Gault and never speaks? With his chiseled features and extra half a foot of height, he would have been the perfect man for the role as he already out-smolders Nutter in nearly ever scene they share. And then we get to the epitome of wooden acting with Bianca Jagger as the "evil" "mastermind". There's many indications on screen that she and her loyal followers are supposed to be a force to be reckoned with, yet the fact that she keeps getting pushed around and ultimately defeated by someone like Nutter's schlubby Gault fails to sell either of them as a couple that brought down a dictator.

Some thoughts:
  • Is anyone else a little tired of the masked vigilante cliche of them being psychologically mis-profiled as potentially schizophrenic losers? In what way would any of his actions be interpreted like that? It would be more fun to have it be something dead on, like "A current or former law enforcement or military officer with a wild flair for reckless self-endangerment, yet a highly trained athlete with experience as a precision motorcycle rider." And then have Rachel tease Jesse with a suspicious look while he squirms. They could even give a little weight to her suspicions and have her slowly put the pieces together in a background plot thread over the course of the season. That's just a hair more serialization than shows of this era were used to, but, hell, it would actually give her something to do.
  • Altobelli's two scenes can be summed up as "Bark bark bark! BARK!"
  • As much as I enjoy the use of Hyperthrust through heavy traffic, I wish there would have been more weaving left and right through the cars instead of finding a single line between lanes and sticking to it. And, no, there's no way in hell I'm going to buy a super sharp Hyperthrust u-turn like that. Taking half a mile to gradually loop around, sure. Doing so over the width of a single street? While going 200+ MPH? Not a chance. The momentum alone would have ripped Jesse off of Street Hawk and flung him a block and a half.
  • I want to see an entire episode revolving around Bernie Goldberg. Bernie Goldberg is the man.
The plot lacks weight and the two villains fail to be interesting, but the lead cast, some sharp direction, and a lot of fun makes up for it.

Jesse's Body Count: Holding at 14

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Street Hawk adventure in "Hot Target".

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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