February 4, 2012

Street Hawk, episode 13: "Follow the Yellow Gold Road"

A squad of heavily armed men in ski masks (led by Harry Northup and John Aprea) break into a Federal Gold Depository at night. They blow the safe, make off with a ton of gold, and put a couple bullets in a guard when he triggers the alarm.

In a dark side of town, Phil Simkins (Robert Costanzo) gathers a large force of friends and fellow blue collar workers - The 12th Street Protective Association - who, armed with baseball bats, surround the hangout of the Pugs, a street gang who's been attacking local women. Jesse had been patrolling the area on Street Hawk, and when he sees the Pugs pull out guns, he has Norman call the police and races into the scene, keeping both sides at bay until the cops show up.

Arriving at the Command Center, Jesse finds out about the gold heist and that the cops showing up at the street fight kept them from being able to go after the thieves. But there's a bigger issue in that maintenance on the phone lines has taken Norman's computer console entirely out of commission. Meaning no camera, no databases, no maps, no tracers, and no hyperthrust.

At Police HQ, Simkins and his boys are out on bond and are all to happy to talk to reporters about crime, the ineffectiveness of the police, their friendly neighborhood Street Hawk, and the gold heist which left the guard, a man they know, in the hospital on critical condition. After he clears everyone out of the building, Jesse catches up with Simkins and offers to work with the man, to supply the Association with radios so they can call in crimes instead of confronting them head on. But Simkins turns him down, too sick of recorded messages and police who are always somewhere else than were they're needed.

Simkins heads to the hospital where he meets with the wife of the guard and his friends and they decide it's up to them to take care of the gold thieves. What they don't know is that the thieves are aware that the actions of the Association kept the cops busy the night before, and plan to make use of this diversion again.

The next day, the thieves hire some goons to attack Simkins' car with a baseball bat and drive him off the road. Police are dispatched, sending them to the opposite end of town from where the thieves are hitting another gold depository. It's takes some doing for Jesse to talk Norman into letting him take out the partially disabled Street Hawk, but off he goes. He quickly spots a chopper in the sky, rigged for hoisting cargo, which resembles the description from the last crime, so he follows it to the depository. He zaps the hoisting line, forcing the thieves to take off without their gold, but Jesse ends up sealed in the warehouse with cops quickly surrounding the building. He ends up crashing through an upper window and driving off.

Returning to the Command Center, Jesse puts together that Simkins was attacked as a diversion. Unfortunately, Simkins takes to the press again, claiming he was working with Street Hawk to help flush the thieves out. At Rachel's request, Jesse meets with Simkins again, and after Simkins tries and fails to kick Jesse's ass, they finally strike a deal: the department will provide the Association with police band radios as a part of their neighborhood watch program, and Simkins will lay off the press conferences.

The two forces start their own separate operations to prevent another depository heist. Simkins organizes his men to watch the three near their neighborhood. Jesse drags Norman down to Federal offices to looks up information directly since it still can't be activated through the computers. The the other members of the Association start to worry about how they're supposed to take on the heavily armed thieves, so Simkins produces a stack of shotguns. It's no longer about just picking up the slack of the Police. Simkins now wants to make a statement that enough is enough when it comes to crime.

The thieves hit another depository. Simkins spots it during a patrol and rushes in, guns blazing, but he's quickly outgunned and pinned down by heavy fire from the thieves' chopper. Street Hawk arrives and disables the chopper, forcing it to land, and Simkins and his man jump back into action and cover the rest of the thieves until the cops show up. With the computers finally working again, Norman brings Jesse back home with a celebratory hyperthrust.

Back at his shop, Simkins stays true to his word by avoiding the press while he admits to Jesse that he got in over his head and the Association might be better off with better training and interaction with the police.


Here we are, friends. The last ride. This is the final outing for Jesse Mach, Norman Tuttle, and their crime fighting machine on two wheels. The last few episodes have been a bit of an uneven, disjointed mess, but I'm proud to announce that this last episode brought the series back to its roots and rode strong. Mostly.

I've long said that Street Hawk is at its best when it's a story of the streets, of two guys testing out a new tool they hope to use to make a difference against crime. Here, we have a tale about a group of blue collar joes who organize, take up baseball bats, and set out to clear their neighborhood of crime in the wake of what they see as disinterest and inadequacy on the police force. It starts when Simkins rallies a group together to get revenge when one of their daughters is attacked by a gang, and it escalates to the point where they're coordinating strikes against heavily armed gold thieves. There are issues with the episode, where the budget leaves them suggesting a larger force than they have and moments of comical ineptness that diminish these concerned citizens at odd times, but the story mostly treats them with respect. Simkins isn't just a bag of hot air that deflates in the face of real danger, he plow head first into it, established through a scene where he tears apart his own shop just trying to get his hands on Jesse. And he's not just a vicious rage thug looking for someone to smack around, he's got a daughter to protect and when he hears about the friend whose girl was attacked or the security guard down the block who was gunned down, it gives him a cause to build off of instead of something that cuts him down. Even when he finds himself in over his head in the climax, his shotguns nothing against uzis, grenades, and a helicopter, he doesn't run away. He realizes he needs help and training and better organization, just like Jesse told him so, but he doesn't drop everything and cower away like a defeated child. This is a good man doing what he's doing for the right reasons, he just needed a crash course to help him sort out how best to do it. And through it all, Robert Costanzo (I've been a fan since Sewer Shark) shines. He's funny when they need him to be funny, deep and driven when they need him to be dramatic. He's got the passion, he's got the sincerity. It's a great thread.

Except for one aspect they introduce, then fail to really explore. Simkins' 12th Street Protective Association is quick to tie its name to the public image of Street Hawk, but not much is made of this angle. There's no sense of people trying to emulate the vigilante, or coming to butt heads over a different idea about how to keep the street clean. Street Hawk is never seen to either challenge or inspire Simkins, as either a hero or an opposing force, leaving the two merely separate protagonists who occasionally bump into one another now and again. Remember that great moment in The Dark Knight where the Batman wanna be asks "What makes you better than us?" and the caped crusader responds, "I'm not the one wearing hockey pads." Where was that moment here? Where was the contrast between Jesse being a lone individual who's highly trained and a guy who's built a large force of numbers, but they're still all learning as they go? I'm happy with what we got, but there's so much deeper potential that I can't help but feel a little underwelmed in the end. It's not as half-assed as many of the episodes have been, mind you, but it is lacking.

As for the gold thieves, there's not much to them, really. They're the background plot that keeps the action going while Simkins' story plays out. I like that they're a crack team of mostly anonymous and heavily armed individuals and that there's nothing more complicated to their characters than they want gold, but it seems a little weak that the only reason they've foiled the police so hard is because they have a helicopter and a van. And once you rob a gold depository, why would you keep yourself and the gold in the same town and set out to rob even more gold depositories? It's like the armored van heists from the pilot episode; once you pull off a master plot, they'll know what to expect and it won't be so easy to pull off again. And again. And again. Either move to a different town, or come up with a different master plot. That said, I do like they way they catch on to the 12th Street Protective Association and start manipulating it as a way to keep the cops distracted so response times will be slowed down.

The other major aspect of this episode is the Command Center losing its computers. I love how something as mundane as a phone line completely cuts off Norman's access to all of the external systems he's hooked up to, and Jesse's tease of "computer withdrawal" is entirely accurate and surprisingly prescient looking back at it from the present day we've advanced to. This serves to bring the characters back to their central dynamic of opposing ways of control. Norman likes to have every angle mapped out and considered, with machines available that can help him plot those courses. Jesse is pure instinct, playing hunches and living in the moment. As he points out, even though one can't hyperthrust or look through police records or display a helmet cam back to the Command Center, that doesn't mean one can't still ride and fight and make a difference. And that's what Jesse does, proving he can still hold his own as he spots the suspicious chopper, roars into action, finds an escape from the police, and makes up for a lack of hyperthrust by working out a short cut from his knowledge of these streets, all while Norman sits anxiously at his dead console or stands over a manhole, shouting increasingly frustrated questions to the technicians working on the lines.

Some thoughts:
  • Rachel and Altobelli are brief, but they get some nice interplay with Jesse. Rachel when they have what looks like an ad libbed swat fight over a newspaper, Altobelli when he tells Jesse to clear Simkins and a herd of reporters out of the police station through any means necessary, which the officer does by pulling the fire alarm.
  • The leader of the street gang taken on by Simkins is played by Don Swayze, brother of Patrick.
  • This is the third episode over the course of the season where an unnamed reporter is played by actress Momo Yashima. It's nice that they were developing some familiar background faces and, had the series continued, I would have loved to see them keep quietly fleshing that character out. Maybe even give her an episode or two. Could have made for an interesting character obsessed with uncovering Street Hawk and a fun foil for Rachel.
While not my favorite of this brief series, this is a strong, thoughtful episode that brings the show straight back to its roots and is just the right note for things to go out on. One of our final images is that of hyperthrust being activated for no reason but to celebrate a victory, with Jesse on the wonderbike sailing across the full length of the Golden Gate Bridge. I couldn't think of a better memory to hold onto as I bid this series adieu.


Has it really been thirteen episodes already? As if I needed another reminder that, unlike Street Hawk, life is always in hyperthrust. Sheesh. Well, even the end has a beginning, so let’s get to it.

“Follow the Yellow Gold Road” is an episode that works exceedingly well in spite of its flaws. What flaws? Let me give you a couple examples. Flaw #1: You don’t tease us with a little Don Swayze appetizer; you give us a full Don Swayze buffet! Don’t be fooled into thinking Don is the lesser Swayze, because that, my friends, is Swayze-crazy. Flaw #2: Having the gold thieves use the citizens group as interference is clever, but why would you go through the trouble of establishing the grim neighborhood conditions that drive the citizens group into action in the first place if you're just going to have them square off against a group of thieves that have absolutely nothing to do with their plight? Going back to Don Swayze for a moment - or, more specifically, his character’s gang - that’s who Simkins and his group should have been battling. Not to mention Street Hawk. It says right in the opening that Street Hawk is “an all-terrain attack motorcycle designed to fight urban crime.” After weeks of alternating between the fantastical (Charles Napier and his armed laser-Jeep) and the fat-assical (Don Hood and his bulldozer of doom), we finally have a mission that perfectly fits Street Hawk’s stated mission. By dropping the neighborhood gang thread in favor of the gold thieves angle, you not only lose that emotional connection with the citizens group, but the element of relatable danger for the audience. Having the gold thieves wound a security guard that just happens to be friends with members of the citizens group feels just a bit too convenient to give them the same level of menace.

And, yet, this episode works. Having the computer systems go down has a number of positive effects. For one, it’s great comic relief, leading to a series of amusing outbursts as Norman’s feelings of helplessness grow. It also takes away certain crutches, giving Jesse a few nice “Use the Force” moments that shift the focus away from the technical gee-whizardry and put it squarely on the human element. I also really like how they make Simkins a layered character. Yes, he’s a hot head and a wind bag, but he’s also sincere and they flesh him out as well as any guest character in the entire series. And though her appearance is brief and ultimately inconsequential to the story, this is Jeannie Wilson’s best performance as Rachel, with a relaxed playfulness that’s every bit the equal of Rex Smith in their scene together. I know the show is called Street Hawk and not Police Media Relations, but I wish they’d found a way to work her character into the action more often.

One last countdown to Hyperthrust. 5... 4... 3... 2...
  • You know Don Swayze as Patrick’s more handsome and talented younger brother, but did you know he’s also an avid skydiver and cyclist, and races cross country mountain bikes in his spare time?
  • I believe this is the first episode since the pilot where Jesse doesn't have a love-interest-of-the-week.
  • We get one more dose of pop music on the soundtrack, but it’s playing on the radio while Jesse and Norman are driving in Jesse’s car, and between their conversation and the noise of the engine, I couldn’t make out the lyrics well enough to do any sort of search. What I could make out doesn’t sound familiar and the quality suggests it was probably a demo from some unsigned band.
This being a Short-Lived Showcase and all, I knew going in that “Follow the Yellow Gold Road” wasn’t going to be a traditional capper finale, but I still held out hope that it would manage to end things on a high note, which it does. But what really surprised and thrilled me is how Jesse’s celebratory hyperthrust into the sunset does manage to give this series a certain sense of closure. Not the “All will be revealed... but vaguely,” type of a show like Lost, but more of a “The adventure continues...” It’s a walk-off home run to end a game in an up and down season whose ultimate conclusion we’ll never get to see.

Tune in next Saturday Morning as Tony takes a look at Street Hawk merchandise.

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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