television review: “T.J. Hooker: Vengeance is Mine”

[This post was written for the 3rd Annual Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon, hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts.]

My family and I enjoy classic TV shows, from I Love Lucy and The Big Valley to Magnum P.I. and Murder, She Wrote–and, of course, Star Trek. Reviewing an episode that had to be older than 1992 for the Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon, therefore, seemed like a fun and interesting concept!

The obvious choice for me would be a Star Trek episode, but I didn’t want to be that obvious…so instead I picked an episode from T.J. Hooker, a somewhat obscure cop show starring William Shatner in the titular role. (Okay, maybe I’m still a little obvious.) Then, I picked the episode “Vengeance is Mine,” with Leonard Nimoy as a guest star.

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My computer won’t let me screencap from a DVD, but thankfully there are several good photographs from this episode (or the filming thereof).

Ahem. I take it back: my biases are still obvious. But hey, it’s a totally different angle for these two!

Shatner plays Hooker, a tough, no-nonsense police sergeant. Hooker doesn’t share much of Jim Kirk’s starry-eyed charm or idealism; he’s more rough around the edges, although he has a good sense of humor and a fatherly way with the younger cops (in particular, his partner Romano). In this particular episode, Nimoy guest stars as Hooker’s long-time friend, a detective named Paul McGuire, who becomes fixated on revenge after his (Paul’s) daughter is raped.

The famous Shatner/Nimoy dynamic is on full display in “Vengeance is Mine”–but it’s turned completely on its head. Jim Kirk is as warmhearted and emotional as Spock is reticent and logical–but this time, Hooker is the one who’s determined to go about this investigation the logical, lawful way while McGuire is “up to [his] armpits in emotion.” And let me tell you, if you’re used to Spock, watching Leonard Nimoy express frustration, affection, fury, and remorse so openly will leave you slack-jawed.

But McGuire’s emotions are understandable. His daughter–his only daughter, the only family he has left–has just been raped. Not only that, but her alleged attacker is an attorney who knows exactly how to work the legal system’s loopholes. Hooker accurately describes the man as “twisted and manipulative”–but he deduces that the man’s probably a repeat offender, and can be put away on cumulative evidence. Paul, however, becomes increasingly obsessed with avenging his traumatized daughter.

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“Don’t throw the law up to me!” he shouts at one point. “I’ve worked my whole life for the law and now when I need help I can’t get it because of scum like Foster [the rapist] punching so many holes through it!”

McGuire’s anger is understandable. So is his frustration with a sluggish, loophole-ridden judicial system. I think that’s part of what makes his character such a sympathetic one. When someone we love gets hurt, it’s easy to get so mad you can’t see straight, so angry that you want to knock somebody’s head off. As for the legal system–hey, things haven’t changed much since the 1980’s.

But two wrongs don’t make a right. McGuire’s fury drives him closer to the edge until he stoops to breaking into the rapist’s apartment, planting evidence, and, in the end, even kidnaps his man…which leads to an inevitable showdown between Sergeant Hooker and Lieutenant McGuire: a good unrealistic old-fashioned police chase, followed by a genuinely heart-stopping moment when both guys have their guns cocked and aimed at each other.

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When Hooker places himself between the criminal and McGuire’s gun, the point of the whole episode hits you right between the eyes: as emotionally gratifying as vengeance might be, even the worst criminal still deserves justice. It comes in the form of a fair trial, of course, and the opportunity to defend himself–but it’s still justice for everybody involved. And at the end of the day, justice–not wild emotions–must prevail.

It reminds me of something John Adams says in the (excellent) HBO miniseries about him: “When people are taxed without representation they are sometimes to feel abused…and sometimes they may even rebel. But, we must take care, lest blown away by a torrent of passion, we make shipwreck of conscience.”

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It’s not a particularly cheerful episode–and I admit, T.J. Hooker is hardly a cop show of the same breathtaking quality as Blue Bloods (*swoon*)–but it’s still a good story with a satisfying conclusion. And of course, Shatner and Nimoy make it. There are several good lines about Hooker and McGuire’s longtime friendship that leave you grinning knowingly. Leonard Nimoy actually directed another, earlier episode, and the filming of the second season (of which “Vengeance is Mine” is part) coincided with the filming of The Search for Spock. 

And there’s one more fun tidbit. McGuire’s daughter has some “Save the Whales” and “I Heart Whales” bumper stickers on her car. I’m not sayin’ it’s a George and Gracie reference because The Voyage Home didn’t come out till 1986…but I get a giggle out of it anyway 😉

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10 thoughts on “television review: “T.J. Hooker: Vengeance is Mine”

  1. Loved this review! I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this show; I must look it up. I have seen Shatner and Nimoy (and DeForrest Kelley) guest star in a lot of Westerns. They’re always great. Nimoy and Kelley are surprisingly good at playing bad guys.

    Also, THE BIG VALLEY. Yes. Love that show. I only discovered it last year, but now I’m a huge fan.

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    1. It’s a fun (and very politically-incorrect) show! Of course I *am* pretty biased, haha–but I have always enjoyed it and recently got my little brother started on some of the milder, lighter episodes. And like I said, it’s not NEARLY as realistic as Blue Bloods–but the stories are good and almost always have a very satisfying conclusion!

      The Big Valley, now–that was a GREAT show. Talk about good, solid characters with outstanding development! Victoria Barkley is a QUEEN.

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      1. 😀 She is amazing, isn’t she? I was already a fan of Barbara Stanwyck from her movies, so I was thrilled to find out she’d actually been on a TV show. Hours and hours of awesomeness. And all the other characters were captivating as well. Like Jarrod, for example. Him being a lawyer led to so many fascinating stories.

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      2. I thought it was interesting that Barbara Stanwyck went from movies to television; that seems to be a rare thing, but perhaps she was fascinated by the premise of The Big Valley? It’d be an interesting story to look up. Jarrod is my favorite of the Barkley boys; he’s the most easygoing, intelligent, and lovable, in my opinion. I like Nick and Heath too, but they’d probably be dead if not for Jarrod, haha!

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      3. I think I read somewhere that she only did the show on the condition that Victoria be portrayed as a tough lady rather than a shrinking violet. She had a lot of influence on the development of the character.

        LOL, that’s true about Jarrod! I lost count of how many times he got his brothers out of scrapes…Nick especially. 😀

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      4. I highly recommend it. It takes some time to find its feet in the first season, but it ends up becoming something really remarkable.

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  2. It has been literally years since I have seen an episode of T. J. Hooker, but I remember this episode very well. I am a huge fan of the original Star Trek, so naturally any episode in which Leonard Nimoy appears would stand out in my mind! I found interesting that Shatner and Nimoy’s roles as they were on Star Trek were somewhat reversed in Leonard Nimoy’s guest appearance on T. J. Hooker–here Shatner is being logical and rational, while it is Nimoy who is being emotional. It made for an interesting episode. Thank you so much for taking part in the blogathon!

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    1. You’re welcome! I enjoyed it 🙂 Yes, the Shatner/Nimoy chemistry and the fact that their Star Trek roles were reversed in “Vengeance is Mine” is what made me decide to do this episode rather than the one I originally planned. Plus, the overall message of the story was excellent!

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