The Hitchhiker – True Believer (03/11/86)

The episode opens with carefully composed shots of a priest killing himself.  The shots call attention to themselves, but in a good way.  They don’t take you out of the story, but they do let you know the director isn’t just a point-and-shoot guy — hey, it’s TV’s Carl Schenkel, director of the great Homebodies.

Tom Skerritt is playing the role he was born to play — Tom Skerritt.  The mustached, stoic, competent, weary everyman / manlyman he is portraying this time is Detective Frank Sheen.  He goes to the scene of the crime — an abandoned convent — but no one answers his knocks.  As he looks for another way in, a POV shot from inside the house begins shaking, a plastic tarp over the window melts and reveals Sheen standing in the snow below through the hole.  Way to go, Carl! [4]

He finds a way in and sees a nun sitting alone surrounded by a hundred candles.  He knocks on the glass door of the chapel, but she does not respond.  We do see that, like most TV nuns, she is a beautiful young woman.  He goes to the church to get a key and is a complete dick to the priest.

The priest tells him the house is infested by demons.  Years ago “a young nun desecrated the blessed sacrament by committing suicide on the holy altar.”  After hearing sounds of howling and banging on walls, and finding excrement smeared on the walls, the convent was shut down.

After that blatant bit of exposition, Sheen returns to the convent with the key.  He sees the young nun.  She says she was a novice here.  The dialogue is a little dry, but it is intriguingly shot.  Schenkel shoots her very close so that the entire frame is her cowl tented over her lovely face like she is peeking up from under the sheets.  If that was the intent, more kudos to Carl; if not, I really need to get some help.  She says she knows Sheen is a cop “by the bulge . . . of your gun.”  She tells him to watch out for the demon and walks away.

Sheen walks upstairs and finds the usual haunted house stuff — shaking, noises, being pushed down by an invisible demon.  He goes back to Father Exposition [1] for more info.  He tells Sheen there is no nun there, the convent has been closed since 1910.

He goes back — whew — to the convent, drinking from a liquor bottle he got from a diner.  Hitting the hooch in the room where the suicide occurred, he has a B&W flashback to an argument with his ex-wife and ex-daughter.  He lost his temper and smacked his daughter.  She ran out onto a fire escape and fell to her death.

Back in the abandoned convent, he hears a noise — his ex-wife Linda walks in.  Well, he seems to see Linda, but we see the young nun.  She says she doesn’t care about her new husband’s big house or big car — she mercifully ends the big list there.  She tells Sheen she wants him back.

I won’t even mention the doggie-style chalk outline of the the priest’s suicide. However, I did like that Schenkel had Sheen collapse in that pattern after getting drunk.

Meanwhile, Father Exposition finds an old newspaper about the novice who committed suicide at the convent.  The headline says February 19, 1912, but he said the convent had been abandoned since 1910.  Of course, the newspaper banner also says February 19th was a Thursday when it was actually a Monday, so it is clearly fake news.  The picture is of the nun. [3]  Even though this provides no useful information that he did not already know, he speeds out to the convent to see Sheen.  Spoiler: Sheen shoots him.

Sheen and Linda/Nun have just made out.  From behind, he says he loves her (no, I mean orally verbally).  She turns around and says, “I love you too, Daddy.”  He screams his daughter’s name.  The police find him in a corner blankly clicking empty chamber after empty chamber into his mouth.  The cops just let him click away, but how do they know he isn’t just Russian-Rouletting his way to the money-shot?

This is another one you don’t want to think about too much.  It is always complicated when a character sees someone different than the audience.  They were wise to cast an actress that had a small birthmark on her nose.  Even at that, I was not positive who I was seeing at least one time.   I believe it was the same actress at all times in the convent scenes. [5]  It was just jarring then that he screams his daughter’s name when we have a close-up of the woman we met as the nun.  Yeah, that was the jarring aspect.

We are never told what the first priest did that caused the nun/demon to drive him to suicide, but I think we can all make up our own story.  Also, another pair of hands give him the pistol he uses to kill himself.  I guess we can assume that was the nun/demon.  I suppose a priest was not as likely to be packing his own heat as a cop.

So maybe a little over-written with the jumping back and forth between the priest and the convent; and a little under-written on the characters and story.  This is a case where cell-phones would have actually improved a story.  Still, Schenkel keeps things moving along and gives us some good visuals.


  • [1] Yeah, like Basil.
  • [2] Father Exposition then calls the diner looking for Sheen.  He asks if they have a customer about 40 — Tom Skerritt was 53 at the time.  F’in actors, man!
  • [3] Not unusual in the days before HD and dumbbell bloggers, but the story does not match the headline.  It is, at least, religion-related.  It is about church leaders publishing a guide “which will include sections on homosexuality.”  Probably not a how-to.  I thought the article was being a little harsh referring to the “Anglican Primate Archbishop,” but apparently Primates are a thing in the church.
  • [4] It would just be churlish to point out the inconsistency.  In in the DVD commentary, Schenkel points out in a future room-quake that the contents are not moving; it is just in Sheen’s mind.  If that is the case, who is imagining this room-quake?
  • [5] I take it as confirmation that the wife and daughter are not credited.  Because for flashbacks, you don’t need actors or sets.  It’s not real, right?
  • This is the second consecutive post to feature an incestuous relationship.
  • As Sheen is first driving to the convent, he has Reverend Nolan Powers from WGOD on the radio.  I appreciate the call-back even if it doesn’t make much sense.  1) Sheen is not a believer, so would not be listening to a Christian station, 2) this case is unrelated to Nolan Powers, so he is not doing research, 3) Powers died in the episode that which aired four months earlier (or maybe would be in an asylum).
  • The only IMDb credit for writer William Kelly.

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