Names: Karen Black, Fernadano Allende, “and Donnelly Rhodes as Herb,” story by Gail Glaze, written by Stanford Whitmore, directed by Mai Zetterling.
Set up: We open in a large clothing factory.Head of production Kay Mason (Karen Black…no offense, but I’m hoping she doesn’t provide the episode’s requisite nudity) is bitching to sales manager Herb as they tour the facility. She’s mostly complaining about the workers. Given that she’s Anglo and said workers are Hispanic, it’s pretty easy to figure out who the villain of the piece is going to be. Plus, she’s played by the episode’s main guest star, so that’s a clue too.
The two enter the sewing room. Nervous because the (Wo)Man has appeared, the imaginatively named Rosa Vargas (another typically inventive moniker from the Hitchhiker writing staff) suffers a mishap at her machine and injures her hand. The other workers rush to her aid, while Evil White People Kay and Herb decide to split before they get sucked into the situation .I foresee Rosa being grievously injured and soon cruelly fired by an unsympathetic Kay. But hey, what do I know?
One of the workers pursues them, though, and asks them to get a doctor. They demur, presumably because the workers are illegals. (Wouldn’t a large factory have its own doctor, or at least a nurse or something?) The other workers are ordered back to their stations. Kay delegates two other plebes to “pick [Rosa] up and take her away,” which they do, chair and all. This is sort of weird. Apparently Rosa’s hand has been broken, so I’m not sure why she’d need guys to literally carry her off. What, you can’t walk with a broken hand?
Rojas, Rosa’s uncle—or, as they would say, her tio (man, I’m down with the Hispanic folk), makes to accompany her, since she “speaks little English.” Despite his, of course, exemplary work record, Kay tells him if he leaves he shouldn’t bother to come back.” You’re not being fair!” Rojas replies. “Go tell it to Immigration!” Kay retorts. “I’ll pass the word around, you’ll never work again! Go, go die in the gutter or get drunk!” Apparently, against all odds, I was correct when I posited that Kay will be the episode’s Receiver of Righteous and/or Ironic Justice.
Lest we fail to understand the subtle Socio and Political Themes inherent to the situation, Rojas grabs an outraged Kay. “I’m not your lazy Mexican without dreams!” he declaims. “I’m a man! You are evil! Dark gods will punish you!” Huh? “Dark gods“? That’s a weird remark. Not to mention more than a bit patronizing. Yes, people from insular, non-Anglo cultures always believe in pagan deities and such, right? You know, like voodoo? Right?
Well, probably not, actually. Given that he’s from Mexico, wouldn’t Rojas almost certainly be pretty hard line Catholic? Wouldn’t he much more likely say “God will punish you”? Or at the outside, the Devil? Weird. Anyhow, his prediction is emphasized with a Suspense Music Chord®, so there you go. This presumably augers one of the show’s intermittent, not to mention generally unsuccessful, forays into the supernatural.
Following further evidence of her Cultural Insensitivity, Kay herds the rest of the workers back to their stations and takes her leave. She exits the building and climbs into her shiny red sports car—Bertolt Brecht would be embarrassed by the thudding obviousness of the agitprop* here (well, OK, no he wouldn’t)—and drives off. As she leaves the gate, she drives past…The Hitchhiker!
[*It must be said, though, that although the script is friendly to downtrodden Hispanics, Ms. Black's entirely shrill, brittle performance does nothing for the idea of promoting women into the ranks of management.]
Hitchhiker Intro*: “Mrs. Kay Mason thinks she’s a rich and powerful woman, and she uses people and then throws them away. But the Law of Business isn’t the only force at work out there. And she’s about to meet someone…who’s going to drive that point home.” (Wow!)
[*In an unusual touch, the Hitchhiker intro is accompanied by eerie music. I don't know if they tried that again, but it certainly didn't become a regular thing.]
We cut to what looks to my unschooled eye to be a large Rubens featuring a reclining nude. In an ‘artistic’ flourish, when the camera pulls back the painting proves to hang over a bed upon which Kay is lounging in a similar pose. (Auteur!Auteur!) She is, I was relieved to note, herself yet clad in a long black negligee. Meanwhile, the set is weird, because, well, it looks like a set. The walls are black, and frankly seem more like black sheets masquerading as walls. The effect is like a minimalist backdrop for one-act play.
The appearance of the nude painting, meanwhile, inspires the following little fantasia. Imagine, if you will, a screening room. Reviewing the first cut of the episode is the director and an HBO Representative:
HBO Suit: “What the hell’s with the close-up of the painting?Our audience doesn’t want arty crap like that! It wants bare boobs and violence!”
Director: “The contract clearly stipulates that each episode of The Hitchhiker provide at least one pair of naked breasts. I believe that shot technically fulfills that obligation.”
HBO Suit: “Are you insane?! We expect to see some real gazongas here, not some damn naked fat chick in an old painting!”
Director: “Our female lead for this episode was Karen Black.”
HBO Suit: “…..”
HBO Suit: “It is a fascinating shot.”
In any case, Herb enters scene in his PJs, thus establishing him as Kay’s lover. (By the way, is Herb supposed to own an original Rubens nude? He must be a very successful sales manager indeed. Even so, I’m not sure why he’d have it hanging in his bedroom.) Kay is worried that Rojas will rat to Immigration. Herb points out that in doing so—oh, yeah—he’d be admitting he was an illegal alien and would get deported. So would the rest of the workers, and they’d probably be less than happy with him.
This seems like the sort of dialogue a scripter inserts in to answer possible audience questions—assuming one’s audience is quite dim, which in this particular case, is not a bad bet—even though both people having the conversation already know everything they’re discussing. It’s thus…what’s the technical term?
If you wanted to convey all this, you should have had Rojas himself make such a threat during his confrontation with Kay, only to have her expose the notion as impractical for the reasons now elucidated. The problem with that, though, is that the script is clearly going to portray the Exploited Hispanics as uniformly saintly and noble. Therefore, Rojas making empty threats could not be condoned.
Kay shows signs of guilt. These are apparently meant to be ‘characterization,’ although she quickly rationalizes them away. Again, the teeny stark set, combined with the overwrought acting and generic dialogue, makes this seems like a bad off-Broadway play. ‘Death of a Screechy Woman Production Manager’, perhaps. Oh, and it turns out she and Herb are, in fact, married. For what that’s worth.
They establish that Kay is freaked out about a big contract they are running behind on. She wants them to take a day off together, but Herb has to play golf with a client the next day. He tells her to have somebody move “all the crap in the yard.”
Kay gets quite put out by this suggestion. Since tomorrow is Saturday, none of the workers will be about. At this my brain kind of froze, because it was wondering what kind of dread inhuman sweatshop is only open Monday through Friday. Especially given that, as indicated earlier, the factory is behind on a big order. Wow, yeah, somebody alert Charles Dickens, stat.
Herb tells her to go to “the Wall” and get a worker to do it. Presumably this will be where they pick up day laborers. Again, if it’s that easy, why not continue operations on Saturday (if not, heaven forefend, on Sunday as well) to catch up on that big order? And also again, why would Herb have to mention picking up a day laborer, when Kay would presumably be pretty familiar with the idea, especially since she’s the production manager and Herb is the sales manager. Yeesh.
He leans in for a kiss, and for the first time this episode inspires deep within me a genuine frisson of fear. However, the Calvary arrives in the form of Herb leaning back and saying, “You don’t mind, I’ve got a headache.”* He lays back to go to sleep as Kay swallows her frustration.
[*Future Ken:I assumed this meant he was cheating on her—that's how things would normally work on this show—and that this would provide another actress to deliver the nude stuff. Not so, as it turns out.]
The next day Kay takes her sports car to the Wall. There a bunch of Hispanics are hanging about, as indicated by an impromptu tortilla stand and some Mariachi music emanating from some radio or other. Also on hand is a nifty vintage muscle car. Is that supposed to belong to a day laborer?! Who knew?
Kay is annoyed when nobody comes running up begging for work, and she herself needs to inquire after such. At this they all give her a Glare and turn back away. Apparently this congregation of desperate illegal immigrant day laborers expects to be treated by The (Wo)Man with a tad more respect.
So she turns toward the fabled Wall and sees the carefully tousled Victor, who appears to be a denim-clad refugee from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video. He even has his thumbs insolently tucked inside the front pockets of his overly tight jeans, which naturally affords him an untold amount of street cred. Meanwhile, his appearance is marked with a sustained Hitchhiker Suspense Chord®, so that we ‘get’ that there’s something ominous about him. Thanks for the head’s up, Hitchhiker composer! It sure beats having to, as scientists call it, “figure stuff out.”
Victor approaches Kay with an insolent stare [Ominous Music Chord]. She invites him into the car, and I start to get that icy feeling down my spine again. Seriously, could it be that the Obligatory Boob Shot will emanate from a scene of Kay cheating on her husband, rather then from a scene of Herb cheating on her? Because, and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but Kay is played by Karen Black. Good grief, they can’t be thinking of inflicting that upon us, can they? I can only pray for a body double should that be so.
When Kay’s car drives off it reveals a graffiti figure upon the wall, a sight marked by another Ominous Music Sting. This thus presumably represents one of those “dark gods” Rojas called down upon Kay’s head earlier. Apparently he’s a follower of some indigenous, pre-Christian religion. Er, just like everyone from modern day Mexico. Anyway, since Victor was standing in front of this image, well, I doubt you need me to put the pieces together for you. After all, there are only like three of them.
Although Victor was supposedly hired to clean up Kay’s yard, we next see him shelving large bolts of fabric.Kay looks on in an apparent erotic fluster, thus suggesting she spent a lot of time fantasizing over the Fonz. Victor finishes the job quickly, and she approaches and commends him for it. He just stares at her, an act accompanied by another suspense sting. Yeah, wow. ‘Suspense’ is exactly the word I’d use to describe the, er, action here.
Kay slyly offers him more work, at her home, and the purportedly eerie music continues to inform us that this scene isn’t nearly as dull as we might otherwise take it to be. In any case, Victor accedes, although he continues to act all standoffish and vaguely hostile. Meanwhile, the music stings continue apace, frankly growing increasingly comical the harder they attempt to offer us a check the episode isn’t even close to being able to cash. And I’ve seen a movie that attempted to draw tension from shots of killer paint.
Cut to Kay’s house, where the fabled messy yard is brought up again. We never actually see this yard, because the ‘house’ is a sound stage, and hence lacking one. There is *cough* an attached ‘greenhouse,’ though—albeit one about as big as a typical backyard gazebo—and a purportedly vicious German Shepherd.
However, Victor just stares at the animal [music sting] and the dog falls asleep. Wait. No, I mean, the dog prostrates itself before Victor. Huh. I wonder where that ‘falls asleep’ notion came from? Anyway. “Oh, my god!” Kay avers upon seeing this unprecedented reaction. “I don’t believe it!” I do. Animals. They always know.(Still, the scene would have been apt had the dog been a Chihuahua, just for ethnic purposes.)
Anyway, it turns out (I guess) that the ‘greenhouse’ is the aforementioned ‘yard.’ This doesn’t make any sense to me, but what do I know? Kay leaves Victor to his task, along with the adoring dog, and returns to the house for a drink. She also bosses around the highly imaginatively named Maria, her housekeeper. Just for thematic sake, I guess.
Soon Kay returns to the ‘greenhouse,’ the better to observe the studly Victor as he goes about his work. Meanwhile, Maria, per Kay’s orders, brings Victor a drink. However, when he raises his hand to accept it she sees a snake tattoo on his wrist and reacts with rather exaggerated horror. Not a prospective viewer of LA Ink, then.
Kay follows Maria into the house to yell at her, because after all THEY NEED TO PROVIDE A GOOD 22 MINUTES OF MATERIAL FOR ONE OF THESE THINGS AND HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY DO THAT WITHOUT PADDING THE HELL OUT OF IT? Still, I shouldn’t complain. We haven’t seen Black take off her shirt yet, so please, keep the padding coming.
Maria replies with various ominous sounding Spanish phrases, but naturally Kay can’t understand her. I mean, “es muy malo!” Who could figure that out? “He is a devil!” Maria then more helpfully adds. “He wants your soul!” Kay fails to heed these warnings, however (well, duh), and sends Maria off on errands. Good grief, is there really 13 minutes of show left? Blurgh.
Kay remains in the house and gets increasingly plastered. Then we cut to her wearing what I assume would be, on another actress, some sexy clothing. So clad, she sits and stares longingly at Victor, who’s now shirtless. Then she walks into the ‘greenhouse’ for a closer look. Man, this thing is simply jam-packed with exciting incident.
She tells him that the air conditioner isn’t working, presumably to explain why she has her blouse half unbuttoned and hanging off one shoulder (and that’s well far enough, thank you very much). She then asks him to come fix it, and takes him inside the house by the hand. Man, I’m really not feeling good about where this is headed.
By the way, I should note that I’m sure Karen Black is a very nice person, and that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that others might find her attractive. However, and again this is a purely personal reaction, but for myself she’s definitely a member of the “No thank you, Ma’am, I appreciate the offer, I don’t really need to see you naked” club. I think I last confronted this sort of situation when I reviewed the Cher movie Chastity. At least Cher never showed up in a Hitchhiker episode.Brrr.
As they go to enter the house, Victor pauses to pull on his shirt, thus eating up another five seconds. Startlingly, though, he doesn’t then stoop over to tie his shoes or perform some other time-wasting bit of personal grooming. “Pity,” Kay says to his now fully clothed state, and again takes him hand to lead him inside.
They end up in the ‘bedroom,’ which we see more of now and which apparently only has the one wall painted black. That’s some awesome interior design work.Kay points out the air conditioner (which is set just above the floor?) and unsurprisingly it seems to work fine. Then she crooks her finger and he steps over and AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!
[Some time later]
After nothing happens—NOTHING HAPPENS, DO YOU HEAR ME?!….OK, OK. Actually, they favor us with a good look at Victor’s naked ass rather than Ms. Black’s respective charms, perhaps correctly intuiting that this is what the show’s rabidly heterosexual audience would be more interested in viewing. This is followed by a highly stylized ‘sex’ scene filmed with the actors appearing as black silhouettes in front a lighted screen, so that it looks rather like that one number from Flashdance.
Then, in the middle of The Act, Victor sprouts large black wing…yes, seriously. Listen, you’re just reading this.I’m actually watching it. Imagine what it’s like on this end.Then his eyes start to glow yellow like those kids in the “Total Eclipse of the Heart” video. And…freeze frame. No, not the J. Geils Band video. An actual freeze frame.
Later Kay wakens feeling all sore and punkish. She dons her robe before we can see anything (Thank you!) and steps into another room. Man, if you’re a fan of totally hot stepping from one set to another action than this is the episode for you. Looking outside, she sees that the contents of the ‘greenhouse’ have been all torn up. “Son of a bitchin’ bastard!” she shrieks, soundly oddly like Elmer Fudd in that moment.
She calls for Maria, and her voice echoes weirdly. Sadly, there are even now over six minutes of ‘running’ time left, so we’re still not quite yet presented with whatever ‘shocking’ climax they intend to perpetrate upon us here. Kay looks out a window, and sees Victor standing in the street. A van rolls by and he apparently gets into it. Then a thunder storm sounds.
She looks for her dog, and the pooch’s eyes start to glow yellow (what the hell does that mean?!) and he barks at her. She screams. He attacks her, and it is fear-inducing, because by ‘attacks her’ I mean he pulls at her robe, and man, I really don’t want that coming off.
Kay gets inside and pulls the glass door shut and the dog crashes through it in slo-mo (revealing the contents of the window to be quite obviously candy glass) and she assumes a comical expression as she screams in slo-mo and c’mon, guys, you can do slo-mo all you want but you still have two or three minutes to eat up before the Hitchhiker can show up for his closing remarks so please, you know, HAVE SOMETHING HAPPEN.
Sadly, my entreaties are in vain. Kay falls over, and the dog disappears, but a pair of snakes appears. She runs into the bedroom, where Maria is straightening the sheets. (Yeah, actually, you might just want to strip those off the bed and launder them, you know what I mean?) Kay sees her and yells at her, but Maria raises her head and now her eyes are glowing yellow.
Sweet fancy Moses, could this get any more moronic? I guess a guy could show up to deliver a pizza, and after Kay returns with her billfold she finds his eyes also are glowing yellow. Also, the pizza would prove to have the anchovies that she explicitly did NOT order. That would be slightly more retarded, I guess.
Anyhoo, this goes on for a while, as thunder sounds are heard, and we see the snakes on a table or gliding across the floor, or Maria standing around with her eyes aglow, etc. Kay runs to a drawer and removes a revolver. She then lopes around the sets some more, and we see the snakes some more, and then Herb returns and she throws herself into his arms, but…
STOP READING HERE IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO LEARN THE AMAZING SHOCK SUSPENSE ENDING OF THIS EXCITING HITCHHIKER ADVENTURE:
…His eyes start glowing yellow (wow, are you surprised, I bet), and Kay screams, and she shoots him to death. And then she realizes that she’s shot Herb to death. That’s the ending. A handgun-related tragedy seems pretty pedestrian, especially since that’s how the previous episode ended. Meanwhile, aren’t the climaxes to these things supposed to be in some manner poetically ironic? Because this ending doesn’t really have anything to do with anything. Anyhoo, Kay starts laughing manically, to signal that she’s gone mad. Wow.
Cut to the Wall, where it’s raining. Walking along and pausing before the god graffiti figure is…THE HITCHHIKER!
The Hitchhiker Wraps Things Up:”Kay Mason took advantage of the helpless [by giving them jobs, I guess—crappy jobs, true, but jobs], and laughed at their superstitious beliefs. But when she angered the gods of their vengeance, she unleashed a darkness that overcame her, and should make believers, of us all.”*(Wow!)
[*For the record, it didn't make a believer of me.]
Afterthoughts:Man, even for a Hitchhiker episode that sucked.
Gratuitous Naked Boobies? Only in a painting, and brother, I ain’t complaining! Oh, and some man ass. I’d say that was for the show’s lady viewers, but both of them were lesbians who also watched for the boobage.
Gratuitous Adult Language?A bit.
Whatever Happened To…:
Karen Black was a pretty successful actress of the ’70s, a decade which saw a distinct trend toward normal looking movie stars as opposed to the glamour pusses of previous years.Rising up the ranks in the ’60s with the normal batch of episodic TV appearances, Ms. Black hit the ’70s running. She starred in some big films, including Five Easy Pieces opposite Jack Nicholson and Robert Altman’s Nashville. Jabootu fans might recall her as the lead of the hilarious 50 Worst Films of All Time entry Airport 1975, but most (ironically enough) might remember her as the woman chased around by the vicious Zuni fetish doll in the TV movie A Trilogy of Terror (also 1975). Ms. Black has managed to remain busy acting in the years since, and continues to do so today, but never again hit such peaks of success.
Fernando Allende (Victor) unsurprisingly mostly worked in Spanish language films, although he had a shot at success when he played Julio Sanchez—seriously, people, work on those names a bit more, would you—in the 1981 NBC nighttime soap Flamingo Road. However, the program failed and Mr. Allende returned to mostly episode TV work.
Donnelly Rhodes, he of the special credit, was again a busy character actor who had been doing TV episodic appearances since the early ’60s. He appeared on dozens of shows, but never got a recurring part until he landed the role of Dutch on the sitcom Soap. After that it was back to the guest work, barring the occasional steady gig on a show like the daytime soap Danger Bay. He continues to work steadily, and if anything, is experience a career peak right now. He played Det. Shannon for years on DaVinci’s Inquest (another show shot in Canada). There he appeared opposite the show’s star, Nicholas Campbell, who ironically had played the Hitchhiker on this program’s first three episodes before being replaced by Page Fletcher. After that, Mr. Rhodes was one of three finalists for the part of Col Tigh on the Battlestar Galactica remake. In lieu of that, he was given the recurring part of Dr. Cottle.