Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ask Me No Questions

Archie (Carroll O'Connor): Don't bother the U.S.A. government with the Constitution.

Mike (Rob Reiner): Why? Afraid they're gonna read it?

In my experience, most people will express a fierce sense of loyalty to at least one person — a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a friend — but that sense of loyalty often disappears when the chips are down.

It's one of the basic instincts of human nature, I suppose — to look out for No. 1 — and that is precisely what Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) did in the episode of All in the Family that first aired on this night in 1972, "Archie and the FBI." But it backfired on him.

The episode began as a quiet evening around the Bunker household. Gloria (Sally Struthers) was helping Mike (Rob Reiner) with his Spanish exercises — I presumed he was taking Spanish in college although I don't recall whether that was ever mentioned. Not that that was important. I don't think Spanish was ever mentioned again — or that any Spanish words were used in the episode.

Archie was observing — and cracking jokes — when there came a knock at the door.

It was an investigator asking questions about a friend, co–worker and neighbor from across the street.

And the flag–waving Archie, overtaken by panic–induced paranoia, gave the investigator answers that sounded like he hardly knew the man — when, in fact, Mike and Gloria kept saying that the neighbor was one of Archie's best friends.

Archie assumed the investigator was from the FBI — I suppose it was a natural assumption as the man told Archie he was from the government — but the questions he asked were not the sort of questions one would expect in a legitimate investigation. He wanted to know what sort of books Archie's friend read, what his drinking habits were, the organizations to which he belonged, that kind of thing.

That made Archie understandably nervous — and more inclined to distance himself from his friend, who just happened to be in the kitchen while Archie spoke with the investigator. Edith (Jean Stapleton) summoned Archie to the kitchen, where the friend insisted on being told what was being said (and asked) about him.

Archie soothed his friend with a promise that everything he said was positive and assured him that they were "best buddies." Archie's friend didn't seem to be convinced, but he left. After the investigator (who had a creepy, kind of robotic smile that he flashed frequently) finished interviewing Archie, he left, too.

Not long after, Archie got a phone call from another neighbor, who said the investigator was at his house asking questions.

Archie asked the neighbor why the investigator was asking questions about the other neighbor — and was told that the investigator was asking questions about Archie.

That was the first half of the show.

When All in the Family returned from its commercial break, paranoia had Archie fully in its grip. He was convinced that he was suspected of being a subversive so he flew his American flag at night. Then Mike planted the idea in Archie's mind that the house might be bugged — so Archie went around peeking under cushions and talking into objects.

Lionel (Mike Evans) came over after the investigator finished asking questions at his house. When Archie asked him what Lionel's family had said, Lionel replied, "We know what you are, and we told him."

Then the first neighbor — the one about whom the investigator interrogated Archie — came by in his American Legion uniform, which he claimed to be wearing for bugle practice, and the two argued about which of them was a subversive.

The friendship was careening off the cliff when the phone rang. It was Archie's shop steward with the information that the investigation was not being conducted by the FBI. It was the Air Force, and the investigation was connected to a defense contract that had been completed months earlier.

When that had been brought to the FBI's attention, the investigation had been dropped.

Edith was elated. That meant the two could go back to being friends again.

Not so fast.

It isn't always easy to go back to the way things were when other things have happened — and when the episode ended, it was unclear whether Archie and his friend would be able to patch things up.

"All that best buddies stuff," Archie said, "it's all for kids anyhow."