Room 104 S4E6 “The Hikers” (written and directed by Lauren Budd) centers on the question of friendship. What does it mean to be a friend?
I like to say that a friend is someone who will help you move, and while that is something of a joke I think it gets to the heart of things. Friendship involves caring about the interests of the other person in something like a direct way. I don’t help you move because it’s fun (or because you’re buying me pizza); I help you because you’re my friend.
Aristotle thought that friendship was only truly possible between equals, and while that seems a bit, well…aristocratic, I think he is onto something if we take his thought in the right way. That is, I take it the point isn’t really that a rich person cannot be friends with a poor person, so much as it is that friendship involves viewing the other as one’s equal in whatever regard. Perhaps we might be divided by class or race, but be in friends in terms of our shared humanity. You are just as important as I am—this is the crux of friendship.
However you want to define it, Megan (Shannon Purser) and Casey (Kendra Carelli) at least seem to be friends at the beginning of Room 104 S4E6. They have stopped for the night in Room 104 before embarking/continuing on a hiking trip that is supposed to last three months. It would seem at this point they have only hiked for one day, however, and Megan has gotten quite a nasty blister on her foot from a pebble that found its way into her shoe.
Casey draws Megan a bath—she cares for her through her actions—and though there are cracks in their friendship that became more evident to me on a second viewing, everything that happens in the first segment of “The Hikers” can easily be seen as two friends settling in for the night in Room 104, even if Casey has made us (the audience) a little suspicious.
It would be tempting after reaching the end of S4E6 to simply read this friendship as false; to say, as it were, that these two young women were never really friends. But I think this temptation needs to be resisted. There is truth to it, of course. Their views of one another and of themselves were clearly illusory before the confrontation in Room 104, but we need to be careful insofar as friendship, or love of whatever kind, can tend to involve something of a mutually shared delusion. Maybe it even does intrinsically.
It certainly involves faith—not in the religious sense—but in terms of fidelity with the other person. Love is not something you can prove exists, but something you believe in. I don’t know if it is fair to say that it is always an illusion—unless perhaps we can strip the word of its negative connotations—but it certainly isn’t objective. This is the internal flaw to the whole idea of dating apps and dystopian visions of “love” driven by data analysis: you and I may like the same sort of entertainment, and even agree about which way the toilet paper goes, but this doesn’t get us to that magical something you feel when you’re in love with someone. It’s like you’d do anything for them.
And it’s much the same with friendship, even if the scale of things is smaller, or different in the details. My friend takes my interests on as their own. I believe that they will. But, then, at any given moment they might fail to do so. They might show themselves to not be the friend I thought they were. So, prior to that moment, were they my friend, or not?
The opening shot of Room 104 S4E6 is of Megan’s blister, and it is rather gross, but I think it is also symbolic of what happens with regard to Megan and Casey’s relationship over the course of the episode. There has been a smooth surface to their friendship, but now it has been abraded. What has been underneath is boiling up and providing a source of irritation. But as with the blister, it would perhaps be wrong to think that the sore spot was lurking like some hidden truth beneath the surface of things. It is rather the surface itself that becomes irritated, bubbles, and threatens to pop.
Megan infers that Casey put the rock in her boot after she finds a bag of similar stones in the latter’s bag in the middle of the night. I wonder about their shape and smoothness, along with why Casey would bring a whole bag of rocks when she only needed one. I also wonder how it is that Megan hiked all day with a rock in her shoe without noticing and thus stopping to shake it out. Maybe that’s why Casey thought she might need a multitude of them? I recognize none of this is to the point of “The Hikers.”
Rather, what Room 104 S4E6 is about is why Casey put a pebble in Megan’s shoe and what this brings out about their relationship. When confronted about it, Casey tries to dissemble at first with some line about upping the stakes of Megan’s challenge to provide her with greater satisfaction when she succeeds. But this is such a load of sh*t that Megan hardly lets her finish the thought.
The same could be said, though, about the way in which Casey proceeds to explain herself. She says that she knew that Megan would fail no matter what, and that she was trying to protect her by sabotaging her early on. But I would suggest that the truth that gets revealed as “The Hikers” reaches its climax is not so much that Casey believes this, but that she needs to believe it.
She needs to believe that Megan is unhappy because of her weight. She needs to believe that she is better than Megan because she is thin. Perhaps she doubts that she could finish the hike herself, so she has to believe that Megan could not. And she cannot fathom that Megan does not care if people call her fat and ugly, because her conception of herself is so tied up in thinking about how others see her that she cannot imagine living otherwise. And this is perhaps the key thing to assessing Casey’s friendship with Megan: she truly believes that she is acting in Megan’s interest by giving her a reason to call off the rest of the hike and avoid making a fool of herself.
As with “Oh, Harry!” Room 104 S4E6 presents us with the difference between being an object determined by others and a subject determining oneself. It is Megan who is the latter. If she is happy it is because she accepts who she is, whereas Casey clearly does not. The culmination of “The Hikers” presents her in the midst of a breakdown, because all of those beliefs I just mentioned have come crashing down around her. First there was a blister, but now it’s popped and everything is raw.
“You disgust me,” each says to the other, but Megan’s disgust is for who Casey has revealed herself to be, while Casey’s refers merely to how Megan appears. And it isn’t genuine so much as it relates to her own conception of herself and her value in relation to her own appearance. She thought she was being Megan’s friend by being her benefactor. She didn’t view them as equals, but rather conceived of herself as the better of the two. I suppose she believed that Megan saw things the same way, but as this fantasy crumbles in light of their confrontation in Room 104, so does her sense of self and her place in the world.
Megan sees this, and responds with compassion. This doesn’t mean that their friendship is, or will be, OK. Their time in Room 104 has revealed that it has never been OK. A friend is someone you can rely on; someone who is on your side. But a friend is also someone who takes you as you are, faults and all. And so Megan and Casey had merely the semblance of friendship insofar as they didn’t really know each other until the events that unfold in S4E6. All love may rely on illusion, but their illusions were out of joint with one another. Maybe a reciprocally shared illusion is healthy. Or maybe love, or friendship, can create its own truth through the faith of those a party to it.
But this is not what happens in “The Hikers.” What we see instead is the puncturing of illusion, and the truth that this friendship relied on ignoring the metaphorical pebble in its shoe. But you can only do that so long before a nasty blister rears its head.
“I’m gonna take a hike,” Megan says as she exits the bathroom at the end of the episode, inverting the direction of the common phrase while maintaining some of its rudeness. Of course she is referring to the hike that she and Casey had planned, but also to their separation. And Casey is left naked and alone to grapple with who she is now that her image of herself has been shattered.