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Review: Hill Street Blues, “Blood Money” and “The Last White Man on East Ferry Avenue”

Hill Street Blues
Season 2, Episodes 2 and 3: “Blood Money” and “The Last White Man on East Ferry Avenue”
Original airdate: Nov. 5 and Nov. 12, 1981

In the season two opener of Hill Street Blues, we witnessed the return of Jesse John Hudson, a former gang leader portrayed by guest star Danny Glover. Despite his claims of reform, Furillo, Belker, and their colleagues remained skeptical.

Meanwhile, Phil rekindles his relationship with Grace. As Frank turns 40, he expresses his desire for a committed, long-term relationship with Joyce, but unfortunately, she declines his proposal.

One of the primary challenges faced by police procedural shows revolves around fine-tuning the emotional connections that characters form with their profession and the individuals they encounter while performing it.

Do the law enforcement officers display an excessive devotion to their duties, or do they appear indifferent? What repercussions arise from their level of dedication? Frequently, television series attempt to strike a balance: Some characters exhibit an intense commitment, while others appear less invested.

This dynamic conveniently generates tension among the characters. It allows for creating “special” episodes that revolve around a particular victim or criminal who has captured a detective’s attention a bit too much.

This approach enables the show to explore a variety of narrative angles with relative ease on an episode-by-episode basis. However, when viewing multiple episodes consecutively, it can sometimes appear inconsistent.

For instance, there were moments in “SVU” when it seemed somewhat arbitrary whether Stabler or Benson deeply cared about a specific case. Outside the realm of police drama, a similar phenomenon was observed with House and his patients over the years.

Not surprisingly, Hill Street Blues excels in maintaining a better balance of character investment compared to most other shows. This accomplishment is bolstered by the series’ extensive ensemble cast, comprising individuals at various levels within the police hierarchy.

This diversity offers them a range of perspectives and shades when it comes to understanding the realities of their profession. Simultaneously, the show’s writing team made a notably conscious effort to outline these distinct viewpoints, often interweaving them into larger narratives that Hill Street Blues aimed to convey on a weekly basis.

After immersing myself in more than 20 hours of the series, it becomes evident that creators Bochco, Kozoll, and their team sought to delve into the consequences of cops caring deeply over an extended duration, particularly within the context of a deteriorating, downtrodden neighborhood.

Nevertheless, they also felt compelled to narrate stories about how the overall deterioration of the fictional area where Hill Street is situated affects the officers working there. This dynamic exchange forms the cornerstone of the Hill Street Blues formula and appears to have influenced numerous subsequent cop dramas.

Also Read: Review: The Dick Van Dyke Show, “The Night the Roof Fell In”

The quality of the show’s execution of this kind of story and themes is on full display in the second and third episodes of season two, “Blood Money” and “The Last White Man on East Ferry Avenue.”

The former is organized around characters who maybe care a little bit too much, while the latter focuses more on how the downtrodden state of the community influences both citizens and police officers to take harder, more cynical stances.

Although these episodes have oppositional viewpoints on how one should do their job, neither is presented as more correct than the other. In fact, both philosophies are shown more in a negative light than a positive one.

The characters who have personal connections to informants, victims, and even criminals are shown making substantial mistakes, which puts them right alongside their fellow officers whose more detached approach leads to similarly awful results.

In the end, Hill Street Blues openly acknowledges several key aspects of police work: it recognizes that there’s no single right way to do the job, and in a setting like this one, most of the approaches the cops attempt to make things work tend to falter regardless.

However, unlike later, more explicitly grim and cynical series like The Wire or even Homicide, Hill Street never allows its cynicism to overpower the characters, the overall tone, or the overarching themes (or at least, up to this point in my viewing experience, it hasn’t done so).

There is undoubtedly a place for David Simon’s “audacity of despair” on television, and I would argue that even Simon knows how to temper some of that overwhelming bleakness. Nevertheless, I appreciate how Hill Street Blues presents its storylines with a superb blend of seriousness and genuine, true-to-life humor.

I may draw these comparisons more than once, but I can’t help but see Hill Street Blues‘ influence throughout TNT’s Southland.

While the latter may be somewhat less ambitious and incorporate fewer comedic moments (at least in terms of contrived situations and wacky humor – you won’t find an orangutan hanging out with Ben Sherman next season on Southland), it nevertheless portrays the realities of the job in a similar vein, or at the very least, it has a similar impact on me.

The episode “Blood Money” primarily delves into the consequences of police officers becoming emotionally entangled in their cases. Continuing a storyline that originated in season one, the Hill precinct is determined to end the ongoing robberies targeting local cab drivers.

Goldblume partners with Belker for an undercover operation to apprehend the assailant, who has been known to don various disguises. However, instead of using his undercover role to focus on apprehending the criminal, Goldblume intervenes to protect a vulnerable white woman from the unwelcome advances of a group of black men.

As events unfold, he assists her to her apartment, inadvertently revealing his true identity and becoming involved in an affair.

One of the aspects I find most enjoyable about this show is that plot developments primarily arise from the genuine reactions of the well-established characters.

In this instance, Goldblume’s growing fascination with this woman’s life, followed by his attraction to her, makes sense because viewers who have followed previous episodes understand his deep desire to rescue and help others (not to mention his penchant for saving animals back in season one).

Even though these developments may seem unexpected within the context of this particular episode – as we had no prior knowledge of Goldblume’s dissatisfaction at home or any such background – it feels like a natural extension of his personality.

Constructing plot twists based on previously established character traits is ideal for building episodes, although this isn’t always the case in television. However, it consistently holds true in Hill Street Blues.

Meanwhile, Washington and LaRue grapple with piecing together the truth surrounding information provided by a long-standing informant. This informant alleges witnessing a murder and exploits this knowledge to extort money from the detectives.

Washington, who is recognized for his more forgiving nature compared to most other characters not named Goldblume, continues to press the informant for additional details, even though it becomes evident that the money is being used either to A.) indulge in substances or B.) flee the city.

Eventually, Washington and LaRue unravel the truth that the informant is the actual perpetrator of the murder and was attempting to escape with his son.

This scenario highlights the notion that the detectives may have been somewhat blinded by their ambiguous yet still apparent relationship with this informant, a predicament that likely occurs frequently within the police force.

They apprehend the informant, and while no substantial harm is done, this brief narrative underscores the delicate line these cops must navigate.

“The Last White Man on Ferry Avenue” delves even deeper into exploring that delicate line by significantly heightening the stakes. This episode unfolds with two extremely intense situations: a shoot-out and hostage scenario and an escalation in the Jesse John Hudson (Danny Glover) storyline.

These events place certain cops in a challenging position where they must make critical judgment calls.

The episode begins when an older man named Poppovich becomes embroiled in a confrontation with a neighborhood minority gang, leading to the accidental shooting of one of them.

Goldblume and Hunter are called to the scene, where a stand-off ensues. With the injured victim bleeding out on Poppovich’s sidewalk and Poppovich himself barricaded inside with a shotgun, Goldblume and Hunter engage in a heated debate over their approach: a more cautious and diplomatic strategy versus a more aggressive one.

Goldblume’s persuasive argument wins out, and he places himself in harm’s way to save the young victim, only to tragically discover that the efforts were in vain as the young man doesn’t survive.

Despite the outcome, Goldblume manages to enter Poppovich’s house, initiating a discussion about the deteriorating neighborhood, its evolving racial dynamics (hence the episode’s title), and the potential implications of incarceration.

All of this occurs before Poppovich ultimately surrenders to the authorities.

Hill Street Blues Station
Hill Street Blues Station (Source: Flickr)

In the meantime, the Hudson investigation kicks into high gear, largely thanks to Belker’s undercover assistance, with Virgil (whom I previously identified as a snitch, but it turns out he was an undercover cop) playing a pivotal role.

Virgil and Belker discover some ammunition that Hudson was involved in stealing under the cover of darkness while he’s busy promoting a local artist event to the media. Unfortunately, Furillo pushes for more aggressive tactics.

Belker expresses concern about Virgil’s safety, fearing that Hudson might expose the young undercover cop. Frank, however, refuses to back down, as he’s determined to obtain concrete information.

The outcome is tragically in line with Belker’s apprehensions: Hudson kills Virgil without even knowing his true identity. Belker confronts Furillo, placing the responsibility for Virgil’s death on his shoulders, to which Frank responds solemnly, “They all are, Mick.”

In this episode, two significant events unfold, leading to two major decisions with similar outcomes. Goldblume steps forward, confronting danger head-on, yet still can’t rescue a young individual, even if he is likely associated with a gang.

Instead, he talks down the man responsible for the young person’s shooting, preventing him from committing suicide.

It’s undoubtedly his duty, but there’s an inherent sense of irony and frustration in witnessing a young person bleed out while saving the life of the man who caused the harm.

Goldblume confides in Howard that he had to resort to deception to prevent Poppovich from taking his own life.

However, his heartfelt speech to the perpetrator about feeling trapped in a metaphorical prison within that neighborhood strikes me as entirely sincere, especially when considering Goldblume’s attempt to resign from the force back in season one due to his overwhelming distress over the community’s deteriorating state.

This man cares deeply, so much so that even when he attempts to adopt a cynical or detached stance, he invariably finds himself compelled to step in and save someone.

In many ways, the condition of this community allows for both cynicism and heroism, and Goldblume manages to embody both aspects.

In this particular episode, two significant events occur, resulting in two pivotal decisions and somewhat comparable outcomes.

Goldblume takes a courageous step forward, confronting danger head-on, yet remains unable to rescue a young individual, even though there are indications of their association with a gang.

Instead, he persuades the man responsible for the young person’s shooting to reconsider taking his own life. Undoubtedly, it’s part of his duty, but there’s an inherent sense of irony and frustration in the fact that he witnesses a young life slipping away while preventing the man who inflicted the harm from ending his own.

Goldblume confides in Howard about resorting to deception to deter Poppovich from self-harm.

Nevertheless, his heartfelt conversation with the perpetrator about feeling imprisoned metaphorically within the neighborhood strikes me as entirely genuine, particularly when considering Goldblume’s previous attempt to resign from the force in season one due to his overwhelming distress over the community’s declining condition.

This man possesses deep compassion to the extent that even when he adopts a cynical or detached demeanor, he inevitably finds himself compelled to intervene and save someone.

The state of this community allows room for both cynicism and heroism in various ways, and Goldblume manages to embody both aspects.

Whether there’s a display of care or indifference, it hardly makes a difference on Hill Street Blues. The likelihood is that events will ultimately take a turn for the worse, often resulting in a messy outcome, as Bochco was inclined to emphasize.

Other thoughts

  • I’d like to dedicate this section to keeping tabs on some recurring humorous themes: the roll call antics and Phil’s romantic escapades. In the two recent episodes, the roll call reveals the following: the orangutan, affectionately named Baby, is still a part of the precinct, and there’s a quirky development involving a peephole drilled into the women’s restroom. As for Phil’s love life? Well, it’s a rollercoaster. He was back together with Grace in the season premiere, only to part ways with her again in the second episode and return to the steady, albeit somewhat dull, embrace of his ex-wife. That guy just can’t seem to make up his mind.
  • I will also observe any significant shifts in the show’s approach for season two – is it becoming more mainstream or accessible, for instance? Let’s call this the Hill Street Sell-Out Watch. In this week’s assessment: These episodes featured a noticeable amount of broad comedy, which is somewhat inevitable with an orangutan in the mix, and the slow-motion sequence of Poppovich shooting the young person felt somewhat lacking. However, it’s worth noting that the show incorporated both of these elements multiple times in season one, so it’s challenging to conclude that things have changed dramatically. Additionally, there are still relatively few standalone storylines at this point. Therefore, our Sell-Out Meter remains at zero.
  • Faye Furillo was arguably the most grating character in the first season, and she ranked among the more irksome figures in any drama I’ve watched to date. However, that’s not the case in season two, as both the writers and Barbara Bosson seem to have discovered a more fitting groove for her character. In this season, she comes across as somewhat charming and affable rather than a strident and overwhelming presence.
  • Danny Glover does an excellent job portraying Hudson: He exudes intensity and motivation and strikes the perfect balance between eccentricity and suavity. It’s disheartening to know that this character doesn’t stick around for much longer.
Reesav Niraula
Reesav Niraula
Reesav is a entertainment freak who enjoys spending his time immersed in the arts and entertainment world. In his free time, he is delved into entertainment as well, i.e. playing his guitar and singing songs.

Expertise: Story Arc Analysis Psychological Themes


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