27. "The Architect," Barney Miller (1980)
Welcome to the “100 Best Sitcom Episodes of All Time,” a countdown for 2012. Each episode will get a separate blog post, counting backward toward No. 1. A list of the programs revealed so far is here (and on Pinterest), and an introduction to the project is here.
"The Architect" is the only sitcom episode I can think of that borrows a plot from the irrepressible Ayn Rand, but that's not the main reason it's on my list. My favorite aspect of the episode is the relationship between Barney and Wojo, who often seem more like father and son than supervisor and subordinate. During a chaotic Sunday that includes a hostage situation and a time bomb, the most shocking development is Wojo's bald-faced lie to his mentor. The boy is finally growing up.
The "guest collar" in this episode is Howard Speer*, the architect of a building going up across the street from the 12th Precinct — played by David Clennon, later the similarly creepy Miles Drentell on Thirtysomething and Once and Again. He's brought in for vandalizing the building out of frustration at the changes made to his design. After he drops some allusions to Rand's The Fountainhead, Dietrich figures out that he intends to follow the novel's plot and blow up his compromised creation. (Barney is momentarily distracted by memories of "that gown with the fur" that Patricia Neal wore in the film version of the novel.)
*Presumably a (gratuitous) reference to Nazi architect Albert Speer.
Speer loves being the center of attention, divulging when the bombs are set to go off but refusing to say where they are. But his speeches on the evils of compromise don't find much sympathy in the squad room — not a surprise, since one of the major themes of Barney Miller is the wisdom of taking comfort in small victories whenever you can get them. Then he's upstaged by a couple of wannabe wiseguys (more pathetic versions of Christopher and Brendan in the first season of The Sopranos) who invade the squad room and take everyone hostage, unaware that the prisoner they're trying to spring loose has already been transferred elsewhere.
The detectives scarcely pay attention to the gunmen (see screen shot below, which I did not crop), who finally insist that Barney phone in their demands, including a helicopter, to higher authorities. "What for?" Barney asks, reasonably. "They're not going to give you anything."
Time runs out, and the bombs do go off in the building across the street. Wojo describes the explosion thus:
Wojo: There was a big, muffled roar. And the building just hung there, for a second, and then it dropped straight to the ground. Like a big hand had pushed it down. It was inspiring. The bomb squad applauded. (claps)
So Speer gets to finish one project (presumably his last one) on his own terms.
Barney: Wojo, I know it's Sunday, I know it's tough getting out of bed, and there are a lot of great games on TV—
Wojo: Uh, I went to church.
Barney: (taken aback) Oh. I didn't realize you were still—
Wojo: See, I haven't been for the last few years, but, uh, (puts hand over his heart) this morning I just felt like going.
Barney: Oh. (collects his thoughts) Which is fine, except that everybody seems to arrange their schedules in such a way that they can still get to work on time.
Wojo: Yeah, well, I would have, Barn. But I stuck around a little longer... to pray. (Barney is speechless) It won't happen again.
Barney: No, it's okay.
The payoff comes much later in the episode, when Wojo is about to race into the doomed building to help make sure it's empty. He hesitates at the door of the squad room.
Wojo: Barney, I didn't go to church this morning.
Wojo: It was a lie. I made the whole thing up.
Barney: Wojo, we can discuss this—
Wojo: I just couldn't face one of your lectures!
Yes, as he's about to risk his life, Wojo's last thought is to apologize for a harmless lie he told his boss. That's loyalty. But the fact that he lied in the first place is encouraging. Blythe Copeland, of The Learning Channel's Parentables blog, explains "Why Your Child's First Lie Is Cause for Celebration":
Here's why you should be just a little bit proud the first time your child makes up a story instead of telling the truth: It's a sign that he's developing key traits, like perspective, independence, and control of his emotions, that will serve him well in the long run.
Ayn Rand would surely agree!
• Officer Levitt, the weakest Barney Miller character, has only 14 seconds of screen time in "The Architect."