High Maintenance recap: Ex and the city

Kate Lyn Sheil.photo: David Russell
Kate Lyn Sheil.photo: David Russell /
Kate Lyn Sheil.photo: David Russell
Kate Lyn Sheil.photo: David Russell /

Art imitates life in the latest episode of High Maintenance.

When High Maintenance creators Katja Blitchfeld and Ben Sinclair set out to work on Season 2 of the series, they were working under very difficult conditions. After years of marriage, the two had split. The divorce was amicable, but, of course, the transition was still raw.

Before Season 2 premiered on HBO, the couple talked to Entertainment Weekly about their divorce and this particular episode, “Scromple”, that somewhat mirrored their lives. But, along with being personal and autobiographical, the relatively quiet and unshowy half-hour also has a lot to say about relationships, addiction, and the invisible barriers we can perceive when it comes to asking for help.

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The episode kicks off with a woman crying in a therapy session. Her therapist is a dispassionate woman who’s clearly in the wrong profession. (Side Note: As a therapist myself, I’ve lamented the portrayal of therapists in the media before, but this one is particularly bad because she’s an iteration of therapists that I’ve worked with in real life. Sometimes people just pick the wrong calling.)

After unceremoniously kicking her patient out, the therapist then leaves for the day. But the woman is right around the corner, crying into her phone. In order to avoid a scene, the therapist ducks into the street and pops into traffic, sidelining the Guy and sending him careening into a parked car.

As a result of this accident, the Guy ends up in the emergency room. True to form as a good guy, he politely refuses the painkillers offered by the nurses. Instead, he turns to self medication. He pulls out his vape pen and takes a surreptitious drag. That’s probably not a good idea, dude, especially if your entire backpack is full of illegal drugs, but to each their own. Having found some release in his puff, he reaches out to his girlfriend Beth via text. Through a combination of the Guy not communicating the severity of his situation, and Beth’s flighty attitude, she doesn’t offer to come help him out. The Guy is disappointed, but he doesn’t seem surprised.

Bored and curious, the Guy takes a peek at his wound. Oof. Terrible idea. It looks awful. He starts to panic and calls for the nurse, asking for the drugs. She comes in, and the scratching sounds of anxiety in his mind abate as she plunges the needle in and delivers sweet release. Fade out.

Kate Lyn Sheil, Dominique Christina.photo: David Russell
Kate Lyn Sheil, Dominique Christina.photo: David Russell /

Fade in to a charismatic lady giving an impassioned speech at a church. Another woman, Julia (Kate Lyn Sheil), skirts the perimeter, snapping pictures of the event. Julia’s got googly eyes for the speaker. Turns out that she’s helping the church increase its media presence, but it also seems like she might be embarking on a serious work flirt.

After work, Julia stops at a bar for a beer, which seems innocent, but she’s clearly grappling with something. By way of explaining her delayed return home to her girlfriend, she texts her, saying she’s forgotten something at the office. She extends her borrowed time by grabbing a pack of American Spirits and having a melancholy smoke on an abandoned doorstep.

The next day, Julia works with the woman from the church (Dominique Christina) on their game plan. At one point, Julia pulls a pouch that says NOT POT out of her bag, and assures her friend that it’s not actually marijuana. The woman brushes it off, stating, “we all have our vices.”

That conversation spurs something in Julia. Back at the office and fiending for a smoke, she paws through all her old weed hidey holes in her office. Finding nothing, she texts, calls, and then heads to the apartment of an unnamed person whom she calls “Scromple”. Hey, that’s the name of this episode! Why? Well, because the Guy and Scromple are one and the same! Surprise!

In the Season 1 finale, we found out that the Guy was divorced, and that he still lived down the hall from his ex, but we never actually met the ex. Here she is, and oddly enough she looks a lot like Sinclair’s real life ex, Katja Blitchfeld. The similarity is so uncanny that when I initially watched the episode, I wondered if the actress was related to Blitchfeld in some way.

Back at the hospital, giddy on the government-approved Kool Aid, the Guy starts seeing things. In a humorous but concerning moment, he spots an old disabled man hopping out of his wheelchair to breakdance. Thankfully, Julia arrives just then, and she’s just the support that the Guy needs. They joke around in a shared language that’s generously peppered with pop culture references, and he seems to feel better just because she’s around. The two have a bond that goes beyond any pithy relationship status.

Julia also tries to help advocate for the Guy in his time of need. She puts her insurance on file for him – the Guy doesn’t have any, so thankfully their divorce hasn’t been finalized yet – and she also finds out that the weekend surgeon is backed up, and they can’t help him until Monday, which is days away. The nurse promises that they’ll, “keep him pain free until then.” But a steady stream of narcotics in the ER seems a woefully poor solution to the problem.

While outside taking a smoke break, Julia texts her Boo an update, saying that the Guy is “high af”. It’s certainly “true nuff”, but it’s not the type of mellow haze that the Guy is used to living in. Opiates are potent and highly addictive stuff, and it says so much about our broken medical system that we get people hooked on painkillers instead of treating the root cause of the problem.

To the credit of the show, the commentary isn’t just placed on opiates here. After her smoke, Julia asks the Guy if she thinks he’s a drug addict. He urges her to take some weed, and she initially protests, saying that her girlfriend doesn’t like when she uses it. While the Guy clearly cares about Julia and her well being, he’s a bit too loopy to have this discussion seriously, so he insists that she take some of the product from his bag, and she does.

That night, we finally see Julia with her “Boo”, aka: Gwen (Rebecca Naomi Jones). Watching their relationship struggle is kind of like nails on a chalkboard, and the two don’t appear to have the natural rapport that Julia and the Guy had just hours earlier. Julia actively lies about her weed smokeage to hide it from Gwen, who we see immediately grab a glass of wine when she walks in the door. Church lady was right. We all have our vices.

But some vices are more steeped in issues than others, and given Gwen’s past displeasure with her weed habit, Julia feels the need to hide her use. Earlier in the episode, we heard Julia mention that Gwen says that she “isn’t herself” unless she’s smoking, and that’s certainly concerning. However, we now see that Julia wasn’t quitting because of any internal motivation, so her attempt was always doomed to fail. Throughout the episode we saw Julia grapple with abstinence from her substance of choice, and due to Gwen’s dismissive and disapproving nature, she doesn’t feel like she can go to her to discuss the problem. So, instead, she hides it, and the problem becomes worse.

At the conclusion of the episode, we’re left with Julia smoking a sad, lonely bong in the Guy’s apartment, trapped by the very substance that once made her feel free.

Related Story: High Maintenance Recap: A Knife And A Straw

Random Thoughts Before I Go:

  • One of the parishioners at the church is a transitioning female who’s just back from a foreign country where she got a boob job. As one of her friends tests them out, she compares the quality, stating, “One is like a marshmallow and the other one is not so great.” Unhappy with your boobs sometimes? Well, welcome to womanhood.
  • While the Guy is loopy on meds, he sings the “What are you up to, Elisabeth Shue?” song from the previous episode. Told you all it’s catchy af.

‘High Maintenance’ airs Fridays at 11/10c on HBO.