“The Hikers” is a powerful, profound exploration of friendship that is all the better for how grounded it remains throughout.
This recap of Room 104 season 4, episode 6, “The Hikers”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
HBO’s Room 104 isn’t shy about getting weird, but the sixth episode of its fourth season, “The Hikers”, wants to get real. Written and directed by Lauren Budd, it has a straightforward no-frills premise that’s simply about two friends being honest with each other. Thanks to two terrific performances, it’s the standout episode of this season and one of the best Mark and Jay Duplass’s show has produced overall.
Megan (Shannon Purser) and Casey (Kendra Carelli) are two best friends who’re both at a transitional point in their lives and their relationship with each other. They’re on a hiking trip and have stopped off in Room 104 for an Epsom salt bath and a chat, but their conversation quickly devolves into an argument that takes up most of the episode and just gets nastier every time you feel it’s close to ending.
Megan and Casey have a co-dependent relationship, and what they need from one another is largely the subject of that argument. It begins over a minor injury but causes wounds that’ll likely never heal. The sense of escalation is the secret weapon of “The Hikers”; each time you think someone’s running out of steam, another petty grievance, another thing best left unsaid spills out. Friendships are commonly explored territory in film and TV, but rarely are the resolutions so difficult – in fact, you almost never see a relationship break down so furiously and completely.
Casey, pretty and popular, is jealous of how Megan, overweight and not conventionally attractive, doesn’t care what people think of her. She attempts to frame this as concern for her friend; she wants her to be healthier, to not be the butt of peoples’ jokes, and the subject of their sideways glances, but on a deeper level, she needs Megan to help her feel about herself. As long as she has a friend who is fatter than her, uglier than her, less popular than her, then her own social status is secured. She can be happy. But can she, really?
Of course not. That relatability is what’s most powerful about “The Hikers”, as well as the crushingly grounded performances. The argument quickly becomes so realistic that it’s hard to watch. There’s a deep tragedy not just to the hate that’s being exposed but the crucible in which it stews; a petty world of high-school cliques and clicks, unrealistic standards of beauty, and an inability of those most affected by these things to be able to navigate the peaks and valleys of their emotional terrain. I spent most of “The Hikers” convinced that a twist was coming; that these were two warring facets of the same person or some such. But in the end, I’m glad it kept itself grounded. If only Casey had done the same.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.