January 28, 2012

Street Hawk, episode 12: "Female of the Species"

Street Hawk lingers in the shadows of daylight just outside of LAX. World famous industrial heir and philanthropist Steven Cavanaugh (Paul Rossilli) is in town and the place is swarming with Feds - lead by grizzled pin-striper Frank Menlo (Dennis Franz) - who are on edge because of threats made against Cavanaugh by international terrorists bitter at him for his father's past political ties, despite the young man not sharing them. Phillip Truman (Marc Alaimao - Gul Dukat!), a terrorist disguised as a nurse, suddenly pulls a gun and fires on the Feds. Street Hawk interrupts the hit and Truman hops in a car. Street Hawk pursues, but Norman orders Jesse to back off when airport security cars take up the chase. When Jesse returns to the Command Center, he's furious to learn Truman got away.

The Feds take out an entire floor of the hotel where Cavanaugh is staying, filling it with agents and a command post working round the clock to sort things out. Altobelli shows up and chews Menlo out for not making use of the local cops, and Menlo gets right back in his face for allowing Street Hawk to continue roaming the streets. After getting a brush off, Altobelli tells Rachel to work the press and Jesse to keep an eye on the hotel.

While passing the pool, Jesse and his suit catch a splash of water when a gorgeous but awkward woman named Melanie Ryan (model Ann Turkel) dives in. She apologizes and tries to dry him off, giving him her room number should there be any cleaning bill.

In a park, Truman meets with his partners: Drummond (Tom Everett), a surveillance expert, and Bernard Ferrer (David Olivier), the explosives man. Ferrer is nervous because of the failed hit and starts asking about their mysterious ringleader. As they part, Drummond checks a recording device that's been running in his pocket. At a phone booth, Truman calls the unseen boss and says there's a potential leak, but that he'll take care of it.

Menlo tells Altobelli he needs a few blocks secured so he can meet with an inside contact. Knowing that's not enough time to properly lock a place down, Jesse hyperthrusts to the meeting point on Street Hawk. Drummond is all set to meet with Menlo in the alley and exchange his recordings, but he's gunned down by Truman, who followed in a delivery truck. Street Hawk arrives and, on Norman's orders, snatches the tape before heading in pursuit of Truman. Despite taking on the terrorist with infra red and laser beams, Truman gets away when cops and a furious Menlo bear down on Street Hawk.

At the hotel, Menlo rips into Altobelli over Street Hawk's interference. At the Command Center, Norman and Jessie hear the terrorists talk of someone being undercover on the inside, and Norman runs a voice print scan that brings up the records of the three militants.

Jesse meets up with the others at the hotel, where Menlo is still raging. They all catch Melanie as she crosses them on the secure floor. She claims she merely got off the elevator at the wrong time, but when Jesse escorts her to the lobby, he confronts her over the convenience of their meetings. She reveals she's a reporter trying to get an interview with Cavanaugh, which is confirmed when Rachel turns up with a rejection of her official request. As Melanie walks off, Rachel jokes with Jesse about small plastic surgery scars she spotted on Melanie.

Jesse suddenly spots Ferrar dressed as a bellhop and a chase is on, ending when Melanie trips Ferrar out into traffic, where he's fatally hit by a truck. Jesse checks the dead man's pockets and finds a room service order for Cavanaugh's room. He rushes up to the room and shoves the food cart out onto the balcony just as it explodes.

As forensics clean up the scene, Menlo says he recognizes Ferrar from a bust eight years back, and Jesse learns from Bernie Goldberg that the bomb was designed to be a non-lethal dud. Melanie pushes Jesse for some info. He won't tell, but agrees to meet her for dinner that night. When she returns to her room, Truman is waiting, and we not only learn that Melanie is the mastermind behind everything, but that her target isn't Cavanaugh. It's Manlo, who landed her in prison eight years ago.

At the command post, Manlo receives a letter from the terrorists telling him he's the target. There's a meeting address listed and he tries to head out, but is stopped by Altobelli, furious at how his men are still being dicked around. Manlo reluctantly reveals the letter and the two head off together.

Jesse shows up for his date with Melanie, but she's not around. He gets into her room where he finds files on himself, Rachel, Altobelli, and Manlo. Discussing it with Norman, they realize she's really Katherine Reese, a militant extremist and the only one of the bust from eight years ago to serve hard time. She looks nothing like her booking picture, but then Jesse remembers the plastic surgery scars Rachel pointed out.

Altobelli and Menlo arrive at an empty sports arena where Katherine taunts them over the loudspeakers while Truman pins them down from the rafters with machine gun fire. Menlo takes a bullet to the leg and they're sitting ducks. Until Street Hawk shows up, guns down Truman, and races up to the press box to confront Katherine. She goes down to kill Menlo face-to-face, but Street Hawk knocks her into the officers' hands, shares a look with Altobelli, and takes off.

Menlo limps through the command post on crutches while his agents pack it up. He and Altobellie bury their hatchet and part friends.


Each week, Street Hawk has been that pizza that arrives at my door with only some of the toppings I ordered, plus the anchovies I didn’t. This week, I opened the box to find a delicious Dennis Franz, a succulent Altobelli, and scrumptious plot twists. Unfortunately, it also came half baked on thin crust and looked like someone had already taken a few bites, because the story was filled with holes. I’m telling you right now, next time, I’m not tipping that guy.

First, let’s dish about those less than savory toppings. What is it with Norman always ordering Jesse to halt his pursuit or giving up so quickly? It’s always “Get out of there!” before Street Hawk can capture the bad guy or “You’ve lost him.” even if the baddie only has a few seconds lead and Jesse is on a motorcycle that can go 300 MPH. When Street Hawk loses Truman in the alley and Norman says “Go to infrared!” I had to re-wind it a few times to make sure he wasn’t saying “Go home and go to bed!” It’s also frustrating to see Norman stuck in an info dump role for the second week in a row after some nice attempts to build his character and weave him into the action. And while Jesse is always in the thick of things, he feels oddly detached from the events of this episode. Sure, he goes through the standard detective beats, but there’s no personal focus on him this time. And what’s with the odd X-Files score this week? I guess it’s trying to sound mysterious, but in spite of their otherworldly appearance, this week’s villains are not aliens (though I’m not certain about Ann Turkel to be honest). Speaking of the villains, we’re told that they’re “radicals”, but what kind of radicals? They could be free radicals for all we know, because that’s about as far as it goes. It’s not crucial to this particular story, but it would help flesh things out a bit if we knew what motivated these people in the first place.

But if you pick that stuff off, this pie ain’t half bad. In fact, you might say it’s Franztastic. Franz alone is great, but what makes Franz this episode’s MVP (Most Valuable Policeman) is that he brings the best out of Richard Venture by bringing the worst out of Altobelli. Watching Altobelli fight over the same bone with another big dog is nothing new to this series, but this is no ordinary big dog. And it’s not just the combative stuff. The scene where Altobelli goes from challenging Menlo to a fight out in the parking lot to being concerned for his safety and insisting that he go along with him is a real showcase moment for Venture, not to mention the staredown he has with Street Hawk after the latter saves the lives of he and Menlo. The sudden realization that registers on his face may be the best moment of this series thus far. Guest star Ann Turkel doesn’t make much of an impression until she’s revealed to be the villain, but from that point forward, she does a nice job of channeling the creepy, unblinking attitude of a true believer bent on revenge. I would hesitate to say that this episode is well written, but the twist is cleverly conceived and capably executed, which covers a myriad of sins.

Side dishes:
  • I was unable to find an exact number, but according to one site (and backed up by my cursory inspection of his IMDb page), Franz has played a cop nearly thirty times in his career.
  • Licensed pop music returns! During the scene where Jesse shows up for his dinner date with Melanie, we hear a brief snippet of Billy Ocean’s 1985 hit “Loverboy”. It’s clearly not Ocean singing, but I’ve heard worse covers.
  • Unless my notoriously bad memory has failed me again, this is the first time we see Street Hawk use its infrared mode.
“Female of the Species” isn’t a particularly exciting episode, with rather pedestrian action sequences sprinkled in amongst the drama and characterizations too thin to sufficiently support this plot, but the misdirection and sleight of hand are just clever enough to keep you engaged.


Soooooo many questions fill my head during this episode.

Why would Norman tell Jesse to break off the chase at the airport, and tell Jesse not to shoot out the car engine, even when they cleared the crowd of people and were on empty an empty lot?

How was Street Hawk at the airport, in clear view, with cops and Feds all over the place, and not a single person noticed him?

Helping the Feds in the alley is one thing, but why would Norman order Jesse to steal the tape from Drummond's corpse while Menlo is right there trying to get the it himself? Menlo is a Fed. Can he not be trusted with the tape? Is it really such a good idea to deprive an entire task force of federal agents of a key piece of evidence just so Norman can work it alone? Is there some reason Norman couldn't get a copy of the recording through federal channels? And since when did the FBI have a massive voice print database of people back in the early 80s?

And why can't Norman ever clear things through FBI channels to make sure his unit isn't stepping on the other unit's toes, or vice versa? Y'know, like he did a few episodes back?

Why did Melanie give Jesse her room number if she keeps sensitive files in there? Why was she sneaking onto the secure floor at the same time her inside man was planting an explosive there?

How did Truman know Drummond was the spy?

How did Truman survive a machine gun ripping across him with little more than a clenched hand to his shoulder? After his surprising body count in the early half of the season, are the producers just refusing to let Jesse full on kill anyone anymore?

We know neither the motorcycle nor the suit are bullet-proof, so how did Jesse and the bike survive getting a full machine gun emptied right on them? Twice!?

What happened to Truman? After he clenched his shoulder and dropped his gun, we never saw him again!

Gyah! The holes!

There is so much sloppiness on display this episode that it's almost amusing in its exhaustive frustration. Even the good ideas are often balanced out by aspects that don't make sense. Melanie makes for an interesting villain once the twist happens, but I saw it coming the second scene she appeared in because the moments of convenience were lining up. Jesse spotted those conveniences and started having Norman dig into her past, but nothing comes of this angle as he instead conveniently discovers her files. Rachel points out a key clue about Melanie's plastic surgery, but in a way that's shockingly catty and insulting against a woman who'd done her no harm at that point (worth noting that this episode was written by soap opera writer Karen Harris, who also penned "Murder is a Novel Idea", where Rachel is also in supreme Mean Girl mode). The big final confrontation is well staged up front with Jesse pulling a trick move to take out Truman, but the second half of the action is just watching him going up ramp after ramp after ramp after ramp after you get the idea, and then he's shocked shocked when Katherine has left her post in the time it took him to get up there.

I'm with Tony that the villains are an underexplored lot. I'll take radical terrorists over white guys in suits any day, and the assembled actors all do the best they can with their parts (especially Alaimo, who's trademark glare is every bit as stinging when it's coming from beneath a wig and a nurse's cap), but nothing is done with them beyond having them stand around looking threatening and occasionally shooting people. Truman is the assassin, but the one hit of his we see is ridiculous and easily thwarted. Drummond is the electronics and surveillance expert, demonstrated through nothing more than him having a tape recorder in his pocket. Ferrer is a demolitions man, but all he does is get antsy and pop off a dud. This should be a crack team of international militant commandos that throws both the police force and the Feds for a loop and even keeps Street Hawk on the edge of his abilities, but they're instead a pack of losers who don't get along and screw up everything they try to do. Katherine is awesome, but she comes in too late to pick the others up. And, as Tony asked, what were they fighting for? You don't introduce extremists and not give them a cause. Even if it's just a ruse to cover their revenge plot, there needs to be something. A bit is made about the political dealings of Cavanaugh's father, but even that is never elaborated on and he's left as nothing more than the handsome red herring the plot needs him to be.

And, yet, I like this episode. While the execution is off, the ideas are there and a lot of the plot twists kept me interested and caught me by surprise. Norman is underused, but it's not his show, Tony. It's Jesse's. The focus isn't always going to be on one pair and the supporting cast will bounce around as needed. This was Altobelli's chance to shine, and shine he did, bouncing off the always delightful force that is Dennis Franz with an energy that showed Richard Venture was finally feeling challenged and bringing his A-game. Even during the big climax, where it's these two middle-aged dudes in suits limping around through sparks of bullet fire, doing their best to pretend they know how to handle guns, I was completely absorbed by their conflicts and their bonds and really wanted to see how they'd escape the trap they willingly walked into. And Tony's absolutely right that the look shared between Altobelli and Street Hawk instantly takes their strained plot device of a relationship and makes it something rich and genuine.

As with the last episode, this is an uneven mess of interesting ideas and half-assed execution, but it's occasionally clever and entirely worth it just to see Dennis Franz and Richard Venture going all AARP buddy cop on the bad guys.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Street Hawk adventure in "Follow the Yellow Gold Road".

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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