High Maintenance recap: Shock and aww

Episode 7 (season 2, episode 1), debut 1/19/18: Ben Sinclair (right).photo: David Giesbrecht. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site.
Episode 7 (season 2, episode 1), debut 1/19/18: Ben Sinclair (right).photo: David Giesbrecht. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /
High Maintenance Season 2
Episode 7 (season 2, episode 1), debut 1/19/18: Ben Sinclair (right).photo: David Giesbrecht. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

The High Maintenance Season 2 premiere is a beautifully cathartic meditation on how humans cope in the face of shared trauma. Spoilers. Obviously.

As High Maintenance enters its second season on HBO, it wastes no time in delivering one of the most moving, relatable, and poignant episodes of television for the modern era.

The opening salvo of Season 2, “Globo” flits in and out of the lives of all sorts of people in the hours following a horrific crisis. Is it a terrorist attack? Mass shooting? The Trump election? We’re not told, but presumably your own personal experience can be used to fill in the gaps.

As the episode opens, The Guy (Ben Sinclair) wakes up in bed with his girlfriend Beth (Yael Stone), joking with one another about night farting. It’s an adorably realistic relationship moment that’s quickly interrupted when the two check their phones for the first time that morning. After gasping in horror, Beth immediately nabs her mini bong and fires up a rip. The Guy joins her.

Oh no. Something’s happened. And it’s unthinkably awful.

High Maintenance Season 2
Episode 7 (season 2, episode 1), debut 1/19/18: Ben Sinclair.photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

I can relate. You can relate. We all can relate. In an era of the 24-hour media cycle and the ubiquitous iPhone, bad news bombards us consistently. Sometimes the relentless negativity of the world can feel like it’s whittling away at your very soul. Terrorist attacks, racism, abuses of power, bomb threats, and so much more blink at us from behind glowing screens, and frequently leave us feeling empty and helpless, looking for some sort of release.

High Maintenance plays upon its strengths here, using the Guy and his weed delivery service as a conduit for the kaleidoscope of human reaction throughout the day. He’s a purveyor of a mind-altering substance, and he’s busy af. His phone buzzes non-stop and he quickly pops out of bed and gets to work.

The first client we see the Guy with on this auspicious day is an emotional mess. Cloaked in a  comfy blanket, he’s looking to self-medicate and puff the news blues into oblivion. The client’s boyfriend Cody (Joshua Schubart) walks into the room, and the Guy barely notices him. He’s been working on his fitness, and he’s lost mad weight. He turns down the offer of weed and heads to the gym instead.

But his vice of choice – delicious comfort food – greets him every step of the way. Cody’s able to avoid a lady selling fresh churros on the corner and gamely attends a spin class as the only attendee. He gleefully realizes he’s below 275 lbs, a milestone in his weight loss, and keeps gearing up to post the good news on social media, but the weight of the day’s news prevents him from sharing his accomplishment.

As Cody walks out onto the street, he witnesses a whole bunch of upsetting energy on the sidewalk. Weighed down by the severity of the day, he breaks down and buys a cookie. Then, he treats himself to a burger.

The clever conceit of this episode is encapsulated in the lack of reveal.  As the narrative unfolds, the specific nature of the tragedy is never spelled out. Allusions are made to a terror attack as mention is made to the “evil” in this world, and a group of tourists lament that it’s their only day to visit the 9/11 Memorial, but the actual cause of the horror is never pinpointed. It’s better that way. More and more – especially in the erratic Trump era – we are required as a society to process the unthinkable and carry the burdens of these horrors on our shoulders as we go about our days. The episode chooses to focus instead on the individual ways in which people process that trauma, a story which is eminently more interesting.

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In a quick but knowing sequence, we pan through the burger restaurant from a plate of mussels, “soiled” by homeless hands, through snippets of conversation in the dining room, and into the kitchen. From there, it’s just a hop over to the delivery driver who revs up to bring an order to a local hotel. Coincidentally, the delivery dude passes right by the room of the Guy’s next customers.

We’re all connected, guys.

Before the Guy gets to the hotel, however, the episode delves into a deeply sexual interlude. The room is occupied by a barely-clad couple with a serious morning after glow about them. It’s established that their phones have died – obviously phone charging isn’t a priority when you’re enjoying night of semi-anonymous bliss – and then the talking stops. The couple starts to engage in some steamy foreplay when a third partner emerges from the bathroom.

Surprise! High Maintenance is great at pulling the thread of the expected and morphing it into another thing entirely. This isn’t the first twist in line for this thrupple, but it’s a fun starting place.

You know what else High Maintenance is really great at? Sex. The premiere of Season 1 also featured a hard core sex scene – that time between two men – and the show has traditionally never shied away from featuring both male and female nudity in all its imperfect glory. HBO has long been known as a network with shows that unduly sexualize women, but High Maintenance seems to be flipping the script with an eye on the realistic.

The sexual interlude is a montage that ends up chronicling a consensual and deeply erotic afternoon. Refreshingly, hyper focus is placed on female pleasure, as most of the attention is paid to the woman in all situations. She’s having a fantastic time, but it is a little odd that we never see the men interact sexually…

Once the Guy gets to their room, he finds a bag of cell chargers on the door. Once their phones bleep out of sleep mode, their notifications go wild with the news of the day, and they’re shaken out of their raunchy reverie.  Low on supplies, the Guy leaves, and the two men start making plans to leave the hotel. Surprise number two! These dudes are brothers. Woah.

We don’t really have a ton of time to process that twist because the Guy circles back to Beth as she tends bar. In a corner booth, there’s a girl attempting to celebrate her birthday, but she gives up really quickly, leaving a batch of bright balloons that read “CUNT” and “Happy Birthday Bitch” in her wake.

Beth is continuing on her path of self-medication, numbing her sorrows with a new drink she’s invented where she pours straight alcohol into a glass. Pure genius. The Guy is a bit concerned about her, but it’s close to closing time anyway. Turns out Beth has made quite a lot of money, and she divvies up the piles of cash with her co-worker, Luiz. Luiz grabs the least offensive balloon from the abandoned birthday bunch, and heads out.

With the purple orb bobbing alongside him, Luiz takes the subway to pick up his small son from a relative’s apartment. Once he’s with his son, Luiz lights up. They sit on the rumbling train car and share a cupcake, laughing. Most of the exhausted travelers don’t bat an eye, until the father and son start playing with the balloon.

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What follows is one of the most beautifully cathartic scenes that I’ve seen in a long time. Honestly, it’s making me tear up even as I write this. As Luiz and his son bop the balloon around, it floats just out of reach. Another woman nudges it back into their orbit, and the game gets some momentum. A young man rouses from sleep, just in time to tap it back over to the little boy. Eventually, everyone on the train car gets involved, making a true connection and confirming that the world still has some good left it in yet.

As the boy delights in the balloon, he repeats, “globo!” over and over again. Interestingly enough, “globo” isn’t just the Spanish word for balloon, but it’s also the word for “globe”, which recalls the world. These happy accidents and random connections we experience with others affirm that even though we may feel far apart from others, we’re all just humans, spinning around on this globe, in it together for better and for worse.

‘High Maintenance’ airs Friday nights at 11 pm EST on HBO.