Episode: “Face to Face”
Names: Actors Robert Vaughn, Sonja Smits, Robin Greer, Arthur Corber, Michelle Scarabelli, and (Oh, yeah!) a “Special Appearance by SYBIL DANNING”. Adapted from a story by Richard Rothstein, teleplay by Robert J. Avrech. Directed by David Wickes.
Set up: We open on a closed door. Medical monitor ‘beeping’ is heard. The door opens and out emerges one Dr. Hamilton (Robert Vaughn), clad in surgical garb. A nurse pulls up his mask—now that the audience has had time to recognize the episode’s big guest star—and he prepares to operate. This is being observed by a small cluster of med students in an adjacent viewing room. One of these is a hot blonde, complete with feathered ’80s hair. I assume we’ll be seeing more of her—in every sense—later on.
Hamilton proves to be one of your standard Portentous Surgeons with a God Complex* so often seen in horror movies, dating back at least as far as Bela Lugosi Dr. Volmann in 1934’s The Raven. “Flesh is illusion,” he announces to the onlookers. “Michelangelo worked his art in stone. I am a sculptor, too.” If I follow my Socrates correctly, this means Michelangelo believed stone to be an illusion. Who knew?[*Please note, though, that this is entirely and completely different from the Orchestra Conductor with a God Complex seen two entire episodes ago.]
As this scene progresses, we cut away occasionally to an obliquely seen woman. She is filmed in such a way that it is all but trumpeted that we never see her face. She is seen rising from her bed, taking a shower (with no nudity—a Hitchhiker first!!), painting her nails, and finally donning a face-obscuring broad brim hat before leaving her apartment.
Meanwhile, back in the operating theater, Hamilton continues his spiel. Meanwhile, the camera tracks in on Attractive Blonde Onlooker (there’s a surprise), who is vamping it up, presumably for Hamilton’s benefit. Hamilton describes himself as a “modern day conjurer, improving on God’s work. I can do it better than Him.” Gee, I wonder if Hamilton will finish up OK at the end of the show.
Hamilton’s continuing blathering amounts to his being able to peer past any visage and the illusions it projects. “When I look, all masks are stripped away,” he avers. “I see through each and every face.” (Gee, will he fall victim to his own hubris? WILL HE?) After much more of this, we cut to the exterior of the building, which sports signage revealing to be the Hamilton Medical Center. There we findâ€¦The Hitchhiker!
Hitchhiker Intro: “Dr. Christopher Hamilton is a plastic surgeon with ambition and a sharp scalpel. He sees a face, and he wants to change it. But unless he looks deeper, there’s [sic] some things he’s not going to see. Like a dangerous smile, even on the most perfect face.” (Wow!)[A classic Hitchhiker intro! Why would Hamilton have to ‘look deeper’ to see ‘a dangerous smile’? Aren’t smiles, you know, generally detectable on a face’s surface? And why would a dangerous smile be so much more unexpected on a perfect face? Are pretty people less likely to be dangerous? Less likely to smile? Or just less likely to smile dangerously?]
Back to our narrative. Mystery Woman enters the Hamilton Center to a blare of suspense music. As she strolls down the hall, with the camera at her back, passersby (including nurses!!) pointedly look upon her face with alarm. However, always working under the assumption that the viewer is a complete moron, they also toss in a young kid. He, needless to say, points and gleefully yells, “Mommy, look at that lady’s face!”
Hamilton meets with the woman, and the big surprise is that she’s a former he that has had a presumably botched “full gender change.” This is realized for us by putting a putty ersatz guy’s jaw and nose on an actress, along with an equally bogus Adam’s apple.
This barely passes muster the first time around. The second time, as ‘he’ is being examined in a brightly lit room, it just looks ridiculous. “Doctor, there’s a pretty woman inside of me,” ‘Miss’ Russell declares. “I want you to help her come out.” Needless to say, Hamilton takes the case. (During the examination, Hamilton pauses to leer at a sexy nurse. He’s a skirt hound, get it?) By the way, they spend a fair amount of time establishing Russell to be a professional make-up person.
Later, Hamilton is stopped by Dr. Gold, who introduces himself as a new medical resident in “[your] department.” (Uhm, Hamilton only has a “department” in the “Hamilton Medical Center”?) Gold wants to register his concerns about Hamilton’s specialty, which he labels to be mere “vanity makeovers.” Actually, Hamilton is currently working on a transgender patient—what could be more hipply ‘progressive’ than that?
Gold, in contrast, explains that he’s more interested in “real problems,” like burn cases. The guy has a point, but sneering at the work of the founder of the institution he’s currently employed in seemsâ€¦counterintuitive. “If you want to make the world a better place, why don’t you join the Peace Corps?” Hamilton sneers. Master surgeon, perhaps. Master of the witty riposteâ€¦. perhaps not. Methinks his tongue is not as sharp as his scalpel. (OK, that line isn’t much better. However, I was wearing a ruffled shirt and velvet jacket, and flouncing a perfumed handkerchief, when I typed it.)
Pretty Blond Resident (PBR) accosts Hamilton next. “Tell me,” she inquires. “What do you see?” He invites her into his office to further discuss the topic. Cut to her naked on his office couch, on her tummy (allowing for the obligatory butt shot), and holding a fan. (?) Hamilton is just finishing getting dressed, and one can only be thankful that we were spared seeing Vaughn acting out his character’s amorous activities. Hell, I’m relieved we don’t have to see him with his shirt off.
He answers the phone. Here the camera rather artlessly pans over to PBR, who rises in such a way as to give us a good long gander at her breasts, but with a strategically placed chair blocking her, uh, lower half. Vaughn speaks to Gloria, who is apparently the wife he’s cheating on. “My darling,” he simpers. “Do I ever lie to you?”
Ding! Ding! It’s time for Ken’s Official Hitchhiker Twist Ending Guess: At about seven and a half minutes in, with about twenty minutes left, I Predict: Hamilton’s messes up Russell’s surgery, or does something so that his patient feels betrayed. Russell then helps another woman Hamilton has betrayed—Gloria, presumably, although Ensman is another candidate—by disguising the woman’s face with her professional makeup skills. Hamilton fails to *Gasp* see past this ‘mask,’ this ‘illusion,’ and pays the price.
If I had to guess, I’d say it was Gloria’s money that paid for the Hamilton Medical Center, and that without her he’d be ruined. (This despite the fact that Hamilton is famous enough as a surgeon to the stars to have been featured in People Magazine.) I say that because, a) that’s as clichÃˆ an idea as I could think of, and b) this is an episode of The Hitchhiker.
We then are treated to several more shots of PBR’s goodies. I can only hope that actress Michele Scarabelli got a good hunk of change for doing this part (although I doubt it, as this was never a big budgeted show), because it didn’t do her career much good. Anyhoo, here she asks Hamilton what is next for them. “I think you ought to run along,” he says, handing over her uniform. As he does so, he casts an eye at the nametag. “Dr., er, ‘Ensman.'”
Get it? He’s a pig who slept with her and didn’t even know her name! Well, he certainly deserves any horrible fate that is shortly due to be dealt him! I mean, sure, one could argue that Ensman is hardly any more sympathetic in this. After all, she jumped into the sack (or the couch) with him seconds after they first met, and presumably knew he was married, or anyway didn’t care much about it one way or the other. And she is a doctor, so it’s pushing it a bit to paint her as a total naÃ”f. Still, that’s the bargain the show presents its starlets: Flash your ta-tas for the audience, and in return any moral complicity in the show’s plot will be glossed over.
Cut to Russell hosting a candlelit dinner, pouring two glasses of Champagne as treacly romantic music plays on the soundtrack. She holds one side of a conversation through this, with no replies evident. Thus, we are less than shocked when the camera pans over to the other side of the table and *Gasp* she is shown to be talking to an empty chair. Despite this, the empty chair is greeted with a Suspense Music Sting.
Hamilton is walking around outside the Center with Gloria—while a very Sybil Danning-esque ultra tight, cleavage-bearing dress—when Dr. Gold comes running up again. Gloria, we learn, is herself a movie star. (And, I guess, Hamilton’s lover, not his wife.) “I’ve seen all your movies,” a goggling Gold gushes. “Even the early ones.”
Soâ€¦he works in a facility best known for catering to Hollywood types, but is stupid enough to hint at the age of one of the center’s celebrity patients. This is typically clumsy Hitchhiker scriptwriting, as it leaves unexplained why Gold, a Dedicated Humanitarianâ„¢, would seek a residency at a facelift mill in the first place, and how he secured the presumably much sought after position in the second.
Gold tells Hamilton that Russell wants a consult with him. Hamilton brusquely tells Gold to handle it. (Which, to be fair, is the sort of work Gold wants to do, right?) Hamilton then gets a page and heads off to find a phone. Gold then escorts Gloria to Hamilton’s car, where he is speaking on the car phone. “I’ve got to have the blood analysis before Friday,” he declares, because that’s the sort of thing you’d expect a doctor to say. Admittedly, a “Stat!” would have been nice. You can’t have everything, I guess.
We cut to Hamilton doing lines of coke while wearing a black silk dragon kimono. Glad they aren’t overdoing the clichÃˆs here. Gloria emerges in red lingerie, accompanied by wailing sax music. (See note re: clichÃˆs.) Given that she’s played by Sybil Danning, I think we can safely predict a second boobie scene. She pulls aside her translucent robe, and runs her hands over her matching red bra and panties. Ms. Danning had certainly kept herself in shape, I’ll give her that much.
Apparently somebody saw 9 Î© Weeks, because she kneels down and starts feeding Hamilton a strawberry from a waiting bowl. The sensuousness of this act is somewhat compromised by the fact, however, that it features Robert Vaughn. As the music reaches hilarious heights undreamed of in your average late nite Skinemax movie, Hamilton produces a scalpel and uses it to cut Gloria’s bra straps. Then, amazingly, we don’t get a full view of Ms. Danning’s boobs, although we do get to see Hamilton snorting a line of coke off her more than amble exposed upper breast. (!)
Oops, spoke too soon. There goes the bra. Hello, boys. Haven’t seen you guys since, oh, the last time I rented a Sybil Danning movie. (Admittedly, that was probably a while ago.) Vaughn nuzzles them, and I have to admit, this might well be the most horrifying episode of the program I’ve seen so far. Luckily, though, we do cut away before things go much further.
Cut to Gold meeting with Russell. He brings her the pre-surgery release she has to sign. She asks where Hamilton is, as he had said he’d be here. “He’s, uh, out on an emergency,” Gold lamely replies. We also learn that Hamilton might have significantly overestimated to her the chances that the procedure will be a success. (That seems pretty dumb, since it puts his reputation on the line, but hey, that’s the kind of show this is.) I think we can safely guess that neophyte Gold will screw the surgery up, leading to the previously alluded to revenge scenario.
Russell gets a looong monologue detailing her tragic life as a transsexual, blah blah. I mean, how affecting. I can tell, because of the somber music that bludgeons us during this. I don’t know who the music director was for this episode, but I’m assuming he was half deaf. I have to admit, watching an episode of a program this uniformly dumb straining to produce a socially relevant Emmy Clipâ„¢ moment is pretty amusing in its own right. And, hey, I’ll sure we’ll move on to a shower scene soon enough.
We cut to Gloria and Hamilton entangled in bed together, amidst the rubble of their partying. (Luckily, he’s still got his kimono on, and through a rent in it we can even see he’s wearing a T-shirt underneath.) The phone rings, and he groggily reaches for it. “Of course I know what time it is,” he barks. He doesn’t, though, and swears after grabbing onto his bedside clock.
We cut a Hamilton, patently the worse for wear (and I mean Foster Brooks patently), entering surgery. His patient, of course, is Russell the Tragic Transsexual. Hamilton is sweating profusely and pauses to look upon his shaking hands, just so we ‘get’ it. Gee, where is this going? The surgical team, including Gold, casts each other Significant Glances, but Hamilton demands a scalpel, and surgery proceeds.
I don’t know if it counts as being ‘suspenseful’ or not, but no matter how cheap a device, watching a drunken surgeon aiming a shaking scalpel at someone’s face is pretty unpleasant. The surgical team winces as the (at this point thankfully unseen) knife cuts in, and then we see the bloody instrument dropped to the floor.
Cut to Russell’s room, with her made up like the Invisible Man for the obligatory Removing of the Bandages scene. Gold is attending, and explains that Hamilton is preparing to leave the country for Paris the next day. (Yeah, that’s a good sign.) Needless to say, when the bandages are removed, it turns out that Hamilton has butchered Russell’s face. We don’t see the result, but Russell shrieks as she looks into a mirror.[In other words, get ready for a Phantom of the Opera-esque unmasking from the latest babe Hamilton picks up in Paris.]
Cut to Hamilton at the airport. He pauses to look over a slinky stewardess as, again, Smoky Sax Music erupts on the soundtrack. I swear, if this is supposed to be Russell in disguise, one day after having her bandages removed (wouldn’t there still be a lot of facial bruising, etc.?), I’m going to plotz. That would be epically moronic even for this show.
However, Hamilton follows after her, and the two exchange their own Significant Glances, so I’m afraid this is, in fact, where things are going. How did she get her face in order so quickly? How did she manage to get herself placed as a stewardess on a pre-scheduled international air flight, in less than 24 hours? Egad! Seriously, is that where things are heading?
Hamilton loses her, and shrugs and goes to the hospitality bar. Meanwhile, unnoticed, the stewardess sits at the bar. At this point you can see she has roughly the same enlarged nose and chin—softened a bit, of course—that Russell was earlier sporting, so Hamilton’s presumed inability to in fact penetrate her ‘mask’ seem pretty astoundingly stupid.
I also have to say that, since it appears Russell will be her own instrument of revenge, this makes the prolonged nude scene by Michele Scarabelli, i.e., Dr. Ensman, even more embarrassing than I thought. It means that her ‘character’ had literally no plot purpose whatsoever, and that she took the job knowing that all it really entailed was her flashing her breasts and ass for the camera. (As for Ms. Danning’s, well, that sort of thing was her career, after all.)
Hamilton notices the Stewardess, and smiles. You know, I get that he’s supposed to be a narcissistic asshole, but really, he’s fleeing the country after butchering a patient’s face. His entire gaudy career is on the line. Wouldn’t he be a bit more concerned about that, for a moment or two at least?
She joins him, introduces herself as Tess, and the Dance continues. I have to say, it’s an amazing makeup artist who can create in less than one day a disguise that holds up in broad daylight under the practiced eye of a trained surgeon. He begins to introduce himself, and she says she knows who he is, referencing the People article again. She then vamps it up, asking, “So, doctor, what would you do to my face.” See, she’s inviting him to really give her a looking-over. Ha ha, much delicious word-eating will be forced upon the good doctor soon, eh?
He asks for her number, and she responds by playing footsie under the table. Just then, they call his flight, and he reluctantly breaks off. Unseen by him, however, she slips his ticket into her folded magazine. OK, so at least she hasn’t supposedly gotten onto his flight. That makes this marginally less ridiculous.
He goes to the check-in counter, but of course doesn’t have his ticket. He then looks back, and there is Tess the Stewardess, waving his ticket. He goes to retrieve it, and she purrs, “You know, there are other flights.” C’mon, already. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t employ to some extent the fast forward button at this point in things. I must admit, by now I was pretty impatient to just move this thing on to its pre-ordained ending.
So she invites him to her place, and he naturally agrees. (Russell’s revenge plot doesn’t exactly seem foolproof, but hey, when the script is on your side, amazing things can happen.) “Her place” proves to be an empty, open and completely unsecured passenger plane (!!!!!), so I guess airport security used to be really bad. He begins unbuttoning her blouse, as we go for a rare Hitchhiker three-fer. Not to beat a dead horse, but it seems to me a pretty inept plastic surgeon who can’t recognize a formally male chest molded into a female one (especially when it’s the chest of a former patient of his), but again, let’s just go with the flow and see the end of it all.
Actually, actress Sonja Smits (much to the frustration of the show’s fans, no doubt) is spared baring her talents. Instead, she keeps him from touching her face, and pushes him down in a seat. “Your face,” he whispers. “You’re beautiful.” Really, could even the most half-assed viewer have not seen where this is going? “It’s the makeup,” she replies.
Warning: Read no further if you do not wish to learn the super-shock surprise twist ending of this amazing episode of The Hitchhiker!!!
Then Tess reaches up (after a cut-away to disguise when the put the appliance on her face) to her cheek and pulls off a Mission: Impossible mask appliance, revealing a face thatâ€¦is bad, but not that bad. Especially since, again, a lot of the bruising and scarring and stuff is still to wear off. It’s not good—in fact, she’d be getting a crapload of lawsuit money—but we’re not talking Dr. Phibes here either.
Still, she has a scalpel and slashes up his face in return. Blood is artfully (well, not really) spattered over the nearby passenger window.
Cut to Hamilton, sitting in profile to the camera. (Gee, where is this going?) He face looks fine. He is repeating his “flesh is an illusion” spiel, and the camera pans around to the other side of his face, and IT’S ALL MESSED UP! AIIIEEE!!!! The camera zooms in on the damage, so that we can see it’s not an entirely convincing makeup job.
We then cut outside, where awaitsâ€¦The Hitchhiker!
The Hitchhiker Wraps Things Up: “Dr. Hamilton took an oath to heal and to care. But when all you care about is feeling good, there’s [sic] some things you’re going to miss. Like Vengeance working out its own kind of Justice.” (Wow!)
Some of you (those not already conversant with my impressively sloppy writing) might wonder why I’d leave in all my musings that proved to be false. After all, they don’t exactly burnish my reputation as a savant.
First, and most simply, it seems a bit like cheating to make guesses in order to mock a show’s predictability, and then erase them from the public record when I am proven wrong. However, there’s a more personally satisfying rationale, too. One reason The Hitchhiker program continues to merit attention here is that, even when I’m wrong in forecasting where the episode is going, it’s generally because, inveterate Hitchhiker mocker than I am, I’m still often guilty of giving the show too much credit.
Take this episode. As I’ve noted previously, The Hitchhiker shows are generally shaggy dog stories of the hoariest order. In this case, Wikipedia sums it up perfectly: “In its original sense, a shaggy-dog story is an extremely long-winded tale featuring extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents, usually resulting in a pointless or absurd punchline [sic].”
If that doesn’t perfectly sum up The Hitchhiker in one sentence, well, I’d like to see it done better.
This episode is an apt case in point. In my forecast of the show’s resolution, I predicted “Russell then helps another woman Hamilton has betrayed—Gloria, presumably, although Ensman is another candidate—by disguising the woman’s face with her professional makeup skills.”
As shown, my guess was inaccurate. Russell instead performed her arts upon her own visage, with neither Gloria nor Ensman being involved. The reason I was wrong, however, was not because the show proved smarter than I expected, and thus turned the joke back on me. Instead, and quite astoundingly (after all, few if any humans have spent as much time deriding this show as I have, much less bought dozens of episodes on DVD in order to continue doing so in the future), I was wrong because, as indicated above, I afforded the show too much respect.
When you got down to it, here’s the gist of this particular episode: a plastic surgeon messes up a patient’s face; she gets mad, and messes up his face in return. That’s not a lot to fill up a half hour program (and since this was on cable, it is quite nearly a half hour, since there weren’t commercial breaks).
That why the shaggy dog aspect is necessary. Now, there’s shaggy dog, and there’s Shaggy Dog. This proves the later, and, as Wikipedia suggests, the narrative is marked by “extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents.” The reason I assumed that Gloria or Ensman would figure into the climax was that, as veteran a critic of the show as I am, I still couldn’t help assuming that they wouldn’t have introduced these characters in the first place for absolutely no reason.
And, to be fair, they didn’t. It’s just that while I naively assumed they would have some sort of, you know, actual plot utility. Instead, they were there for the apparently equally vital, if perhaps less artistically compelling, reason of providing some naked breasts for us to stare. (Please remember this program was first telecast in the early days of premium cable and home video, and well before the Internet was a household word, when nudity was by today’s standard almost unimaginatively difficult to come by.)
Of course, the insertion of Gloria and Dr. Ensman into things also eats up time. As I noted, he messes up her face / she messes up his face doesn’t by itself fill up 27 minutes of screentime. However, I really think the ‘breasts’ explanation remains the primary motivation here.
Think how clunky the episode’s sequence of events is. Hamilton doesn’t perform the operation until the show is more than 2/3rds over, and by the time Russell removes her bandages, we’re down to about the last five minutes. That compresses the amount of time Russell has to affect her revenge plot to a ludicrous extent, and moreover means there’s not real reason for Hamilton to be on his guard.
A seemingly more satisfying plot structure would have involved Hamilton botching the operation in the first third of the show. During the middle third he could have removed her bandages, revealed the horrors beneath, and fled the country (or at least the city) after she violently attacked him and vowed revenge while being dragged off by security. Months later, in some obscure corner of the globe, she could have tracked him down and pulled her little disguise number.
Sure, that’s just as dumb, boring and pointless, but it’s at least more streamlined.
Meanwhile, I have to say, Hamilton getting his face slashed up doesn’t seem like much of a kicker. Apparently noticing this, they introduce the whole rigmarole of him opining about his godlike ability to peer beneath the surface of one’s face to glean what lies beneath. In the end, this proves a woefully lame attempt to inject a note or irony or, well, something, to his otherwise rather flaccid comeuppance. The last scene, meanwhile, seems to imply that Hamilton has been driven mad by the whole thing. This also comes off as but a feeble contrivance meant to lend his fate some dramatic impact.
Immortal Dialogue: Not so much.
Gratuitous Naked Boobies? I’ll say!
Loads of ‘Adult’ Language? A little.
Whatever Happened Toâ€¦: