One of the best things about Police Woman: Season One is its consistency. Some episodes might have had a more b-movie tone than others but all the episodes from this season have a slick sense of craftsmanship in how they are assembled, always managing to deliver the goods by the time the end credits roll. Some of even go beyond the call of duty and add some unexpected thematic or storytelling complexity. Here’s a quick rundown of seven episodes from the first season of Police Woman that deserve special notice for such reasons.
Anatomy Of Two Rapes: unique episode where Pepper and the crew investigate two rape cases – one seems pretty clear-cut while the other is a bit more mysterious. Neither case turns out to be what it first seems, with the end results of both showing just how complex this kind of case can be. The twists and turns of the story are consistently surprising – and it even throws in an ending that feels like the denouement from one of the Psycho rip-offs of the 1960’s. Be sure to look out for a showy supporting turn from Angel Tompkins as a boozy, self-destructive photographer’s model who ends up a victim.
Fish: fun episode in which Pepper goes undercover as a jail inmate to keep tabs on a new prisoner who could offer evidence on an organized crime murder. It basically allows the show to do a t.v.-scale version of a women-in-prison movie and it works well, with some fun twists like Pepper having to deal with a prisoner who recognizes her as a cop. Conny Van Dyke, who you might remember as Joe Don Baker’s main squeeze in Framed, does solid work as the new prisoner and the episode’s juxtaposition of her high-strung persona with Dickinson’s more mellow style is particularly effective.
Flowers Of Evil: easily the most controversial episode of Police Woman, this features Pepper going undercover as a nurse at an old women’s home run by a trio of lesbians who are murdering their patients for their savings accounts. It’s easy to see why this got in so much trouble but the lesbian angle is played more for cheap thrills as opposed to demonizing gay people. It even ends with a memorable scene where Pepper delivers a surprisingly sensitive speech about the danger of being sexually repressed to one of the trio to get a confession. If you approach it on a b-movie level, it’s killer stuff: the opening sequence, depicting the murder of one hapless patient, is nerve-jangling stuff and there’s a darkly humorous, unforgettable performance from Fay Spain as the most butch member of the murdering trio.
Smack: out of all the b-movie “Pepper on a mission” episodes, this is the most fun. As mentioned in the Police Woman: Season One review, this one plays like a 1975-era update of High School Confidential with Pepper going undercover at a school where a drug problem is leading to overdoses and one teen dealer’s murder. William Shatner is the scene-stealer here as a troubled chemistry teacher, particularly in an amazing scene where he gets drunk before bursting into tears. That said, the supporting cast is packed with a surrealistically eclectic roster of names: Stanley Livingston from My Three Sons, Motown icon Smokey Robinson, Jamie Donnelly from Grease and Brenda Sykes of Mandingo fame as a rookie cop who assists Pepper by posing as a student!
Target Black: Of the more serious episodes of Police Woman‘s first season, this one gets closest to its Police Story roots. Pepper is assigned to be bodyguard for Cora Sanders (Ruby Dee), a political activist whose views on race and Communism put her at risk of being killed. Sanders is sarcastic and strident, creating sparks with Pepper at first, but both women come to respect each other as the cops try to find a mystery assailant who is threatening Cora’s life. Dee gives a gutsy, intense performance and Dickinson responds nicely to the challenge of having an equally strong female character to interact with. The mystery plot is also handled with skill, including some effective red herrings – particularly a young, pre-The Exterminator Robert Ginty as the mouthy leader of a white supremacist group.
Nothing Left To Lose: fascinating episode that throws out the entire Police Woman rulebook to do something memorably different. Pepper is essentially a supporting character here, with the main focus being the travails of an informant (Patty Duke) who is trying to get money to leave town before the crooks she has informed on can get to her. When Pepper is late in getting the cash to her and the crooks start shooting, she embarks on a dark odyssey through the town’s underworld, confronting all the failures of her criminal life as she tries escape. It plays like a film noir, right down to an unforgettably grim ending.
Bloody Nose: a great example of Police Woman “message” episode. Pepper’s got her hands full dealing with an undercover operation at a truck stop when neighbors at an apartment building get her involved in a dispute between a bickering couple. The husband – memorably played against type by David Birney – is hot-tempered, paranoid and violent… but is this situation all it seems? A really deft piece of screenwriting here, with both plotlines intertwining into an satisfying, complex whole that tackles an unusual theme for the era. Dickinson gets one of her best scenes in the whole season during the finale of this episode and Birney matches her beat for beat.
For Schlockmania’s review of Police Woman: Season One, click here.