The Hitchhiker – Cabin Fever (05/12/87)

In a purely perfunctory opening, a man comes out of his beach-front home and goes running with his dog. Scoundrel Rick Hinton enters the unlocked house and goes through his desk.  He finds an envelope full of cash, but only takes some of it.  He goes into the bathroom where the man’s wife was clearly expecting him.  They have the sex. Elapsed time:  2 minutes (including the sex).

I understand they used this opening to establish Hinton as a playa on the playa.  It is just so disconnected and laughably condensed that it leaves you thinking it should have more meaning.  Strangely, though, it takes the extra time to establish him as a thief, which plays absolutely no part in the rest of the episode.  He’s not even a very good thief — he takes enough money that its absence will be noticed, but he doesn’t take it all so it might be thought misplaced.

Next, at a marina, he spots a woman struggling with the sails on her boat.  Again, the narrative is so compressed it is just crazy.  From stranger on the dock, through flirtation, to him being hired takes literally 35 seconds.  Her husband Cameron pops up through a hatch.  She says she hired the stranger to help on the island. Her husband refers to him as a “cabin boy” and says, “Welcome aboard, young man” to the 30 year old.

On the island, Hinton sees Cameron chopping up some mushrooms. Cameron spears a mushroom and holds it up, proclaiming it morcellus esculente, but I think he means morchella esculente.  He also calls it “the ambrosia of mushrooms”, but I’m not sure there really would be a fungus of the gods — wouldn’t they kinda be above that?  In any case, people who make such a fuss over mushrooms are even more insufferable than wine snobs.  And WTF uses that Olive Bar at Fresh Market?  But I digress . . . Miranda pops in to assure Hinton that the mushrooms are safe; Cameron grows them in the basement. He says, “Mushrooms are admirable creatures.  So much more reliable than people.”

Hinton learns that Cameron is a movie director.  He asks if Cameron has directed any thing he’s seen and Cameron zings both Hinton and himself pretty good, “Unfortunately, just the sort of thing you would see.”  Miranda reels off his oeuvre, Sister of Dracula, House of Cadavers, Beach Blanket Bloodbath.  Hinton has seen that last epic, but says, “It was a little opaque.”  As usual, The Hitchhiker doesn’t know a funny line when they have one.  However, it does give Cameron another opportunity to demean Hinton as a “house-boy.”

He grabs a bottle of tequila and takes a swig before unsanitarily offering it to Hinton. Cameron proclaims — again with the proclaiming! — it, “The only proper drink, really.  You know, the Mexicans sometimes put a little worm in the bottom of the bottle.  That’s how you can tell the best tequila.”  Actually, you find a worm at the bottom of a bottle of mescal, not tequila.  Except that you don’t usually find one there, either.  And it isn’t a sign of quality.  And it’s a moth larvae, not a worm.  Other than that, he is spot-on.

Hinton deftly accuses Cameron of emulating the worm — soaked to the gills, seeing life through the bottom of a booze bottle.  The drifter working as a cabin boy then tells the guy who owns the yacht and island getaway, “I know a has-been when I see one.” Cameron harrumphs and goes out to “check the traps.”

After Hinton gives Miranda a few smooches down below — in the basement, I mean — she is ready to dump Cameron.  The scene also informs us that Hinton is claustrophobic and that the basement door will slam shut by itself and lock you in.  Fortunately Miranda keeps a spare key in a jar.  She later shows Hinton a pistol and tells him Cameron sometimes hits her.

They start kissing, but Cameron gets back from his trap-checking.  She runs out to meet him and Hinton goes to the basement.  For no reason that I can figure, he takes the basement key out of the jar where it is usually kept and transfers it to a bottle of tequila. He is planning to lock Cameron down there?  That’s a pretty lousy hiding place.  Why leave it there at all?  Is it some kind of metaphor for the tequila worm?  I don’t get it.

That night, Cameron orders Hinton around as “house-boy” to fetch some booze.  Hinton suggests champagne and invites him downstairs to pick out a good vintage (ahhhh). Cameron instead sends Miranda downstairs to get the champagne saying, “Nothing but the best for our servant.”  After she leaves, Cameron calls an audible [1] and decides on martinis.  Cameron again demonstrates his knowledge of mixology by making martinis with no vermouth, no olives and no onions, which sounds a lot like straight gin.  Miranda couldn’t find the champagne, so returns with tequila.  Cameron says they are celebrating his new production.

He rambles on about a prince and a princess and a troll as a metaphor for their triangle. Cameron pulls a knife, but Hinton pulls a gun.  Hinton accidentally shoots him.  Miranda brains Hinton with a tequila bottle.  I must say she does it with such force that it is my favorite shot of the episode.

Blah, blah . . . the shooting was staged.  Miranda and Cameron drag Hinton to the basement.  When he wakes up, through the door, they tell him it was all in good fun and that he can catch the ferry at 9 am.  It seems like a prank they have played before.  He scrambles to get the key, but it was in the bottle of tequila Miranda took upstairs the previous night.  Hmmm . . . there are two possible scenarios:

  1. Miranda showed Hinton where the key was kept, so she believes he will get out safely.  In that case, while she and Cameron are yukking it up over their little charade, isn’t she worried he will unlock the door and kick their asses?
  2. Miranda is aware that Hinton moved the key and purposely chose that bottle to take upstairs.  Unfortunately, there is zero suggestion off that.  Why would she leave the bottle with the key in it in plain sight upstairs?  She and Cameron seem to honestly be in love and think this was all a hoot.

And once again, what kind of place is a liquor bottle to hide a key?  Everyone knows, the have to finish a bottle of booze after you open it or it will go bad.  Did Lucille Bluth teach us nothing?

While the pacing was choppy in the beginning, I do appreciate that they didn’t pad out the episode . . . boy, do I appreciate it!  At its most basic level, I did like the story and the twist — just the details were a little loopy.  Thank God they had Jerry Orbach as Cameron to carry the episode.  His energy helped distract from Michael Wood’s dreadful performance as Hinton.  He has had a long career, so maybe this was just an early misstep.  Season Hubley was entirely adequate as Miranda.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] This might not be used correctly.  Football bores me just as much as wine.
  • Director Clyde Monroe is a one-credit oneder.

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