The Hitchhiker – Man’s Best Friend (12/10/85)

Car door dented before the suitcase hit it.

Richard Shepard comes home and is good-naturedly shouting to his wife upstairs about his bad day.  He says, “You should have seen what they were throwing at me.”  At just that moment, a large suitcase crashes to the bottom of the stairs.  This could have been a good laugh; actually, I did laugh.  Sadly, no one involved in the production seemed to recognize the gag.  Even after a 2nd bag crashes down, Shephard barely reacts.

Ellie walks down the stairs after the bags.  She has thoughtfully packed them for Richard because she is throwing him out of the house.  One of the bags opens as he is carrying them to the car.  In anger, he flings another bag against the door of his Porsche, leaving a nice dent in the car which I suspect was an accident.

He goes to the home of his friend Carl.  Several years earlier Carl’s wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return.  Fortunately they do not have to share the apartment as Carl is heading to New York.  That night, Shephard hears howling.  He investigates and finds a white dog and — for no reason I can figure — a blow-up sex doll.

hmansbestfriend2The next morning, still wearing the same double-breasted suit — that’s reason enough to break up with a dude right there — Shephard goes in search of Ellie.  He goes to her hair salon and starts flipping up hair dryers in search of her.  He is man-handled, tossed out and given such a slap by the fabulous owner [1] of the salon.  That’s not a story I’d tell down at the VFW Hall.  The dog witnesses the whole scene.

In another non-sequitur that I can’t figure out, Shephard makes a little fort for the dog. He has turned the sofa upside-down and spread some pillows to make it very homey. The dog comes home after walking himself and is covered with blood.  Shephard takes him into the shower and hoses him off — still wearing the double-breasted suit.  At least it is getting cleaned.  The next morning — as he awakens still in the same suit — the dog fetches him the paper.  The salon owner has been killed.

The next day he goes to an analyst who seems to have treated both him and Ellie.  He accuses the shrink of having a lesbian affair with his wife which is troubling as it 1) broke up their marriage, and 2) was a breach of medical ethics, and 3) took place off-camera.  The therapist assures him this is a delusion he has concocted to explain the break-up.  He seems to be wearing that same suit, BTW.  And it’s not like it is ragged, as a metaphor for his breaking down.  If still looks like a pretty nice suit except for the double-breastedness.  Oh, the dog kills her too.

hmansbestfriend3Carl comes home from New York to find his home has been wrecked.  I still can’t figure out what the point of this is.  Carl is understandably peeved, but Shephard tells him not to be angry.  Just to be safe, the dog kills him.

The next day, still in the same suit, Shephard takes a Polaroid picture of he and the dog posing in front of a mirror.  Ellie calls and that seems to upset the dog.  Shepard goes to her house to protect her.  When she tells him he is his own worst enemy, the dog attacks him and pushes him off a balcony.

Of course, there is no dog.  As it is attacking him, we see Shephard from Ellie’s POV defending against a non-existent dog.  Just in case we don’t get it, we then see the Polaroid which has developed to show no dog in the shot.  Shephard is the dog.

hmansbestfriend4I was highly critical of Michael O’Keefe’s (Shepard) performance for most of the episode. He was never much of an actor, but here he just seemed all over the board.  The revelation that he was nuts helped explain away some of that; many of his mannerisms are meant to imitate a dog.  The basics of the story were great.  I just wish I understood the sex doll, the sofa fort, the destruction of Carl’s house, and the symbolism of wearing the same suit day after day.  I guess the destruction is what you would expect from a dog.  Maybe the suit was like the dog’s fur — he can’t change it.

There’s a melodrama that permeates every episode of this series.  Despite it, this turned out to be a good episode.

I rate it 5 in dog years.


  • [1] This guy was a dead-ringer for the love child of David Letterman and Joe Pisopo.
  • Directed by a pre Dead Calm Phillip Noyce.
  • In the commentary, Noyce says the dog is only seen from Shephard’s POV, but that’s not true.

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