High Maintenance recap: Stages of Grief

Ben Sinclair.photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site.
Ben Sinclair.photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

In the High Maintenance Season 3 opener, the Guy meanders out of Brooklyn to contemplate life, death, and M.A.S.H.

As the curtain rises on a new season of HBO’s High Maintenance, the series finally ascends to a time slot that may help it gain the larger audience it so deserves. After being scheduled in a Friday 11:30pm spot on HBO for the past two seasons, the cable network switched up the programming for Season 3, moving it to Sunday night and pairing it with fellow NYC-based series Crashing for a block of juicy Big Apple greatness.

(Note: FWIW, when Crashing was first announced, I was hyped just thinking of a potential crossover between the two. Consider the possibilities. Pete crashes on High Maintenance alum Hannibal Buress’s couch, they need some green, so they call up the Guy. Done deal. I’m still jonesing for that day, but as far as I’m concerned, pairing the two shows in a single HBO Sunday comedy block is a move in the right direction.)

However, the premiere episode of the new season sees the Guy (Ben Sinclair) in an unfamiliar locale. For the first time in the HBO series, the show leaves its Brooklyn roots and travels to unknown territory. In this case, it’s the Poughkeepsie area. Instead of rocking his iconic bicycle, he’s grooving down the road in Steve, the RV that his ex-girlfriend gifted him at the end of the last season. Presumably, only two weeks have passed since then, and the Guy has been smoking it up, traveling around to visit old friends in the area, and generally just chilling in the woods.

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But before we get to the Guy, the show introduces us to Berg, an old hippie who immediately brings to mind the Dude from The Big Lebowski (or El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). Berg happens to be stark naked and prepping a bath for himself on the second floor of his house. Seems like his hot water is out, because he’s boiling a giant pot of water on the stove. Fair enough, but the dude goes to retrieve the pot while still stark naked. The brief sequence where he shuffles across his living room, up the stairs, and into his bathroom gave me intense anxiety. Would he accidentally boil his dick off? Would he trip and fall onto the scalding hot pot?

Nah. Turns out that Berg is a total bath professional, and he successfully settles in for a relaxing soak and toke. Unfortunately, the Grim Reaper chooses that very moment to come take him, and the scene fades out, Six Feet Under style, as he passes away.

After Berg dies, we’re also introduced to a new character, a young lady named Cori (Erin Markey). Cori seems somewhat aimless and unhappy. She has a job cleaning Airbnb’s, but mostly she reads sci-fi at a local bar while binge drinking beer. Later that day, she heads to Berg’s house with a four pack of suds, but she gets a traumatic surprise when she heads upstairs to find him.

Erin Markey, Andy Taylor (center).photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site.
Erin Markey, Andy Taylor (center).photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

Soon, the Guy and Cori cross paths as he makes his way to a memorial for Berg. It’s revealed that – like the Guy – Berg was also a weed dealer, and that he touched a lot of lives over the years. Cori is the maestro of this event, filling the coolers with cans of local brew and giving a touching, heartfelt eulogy. She recalls that she and Berg enjoyed a daily ritual where they smoked, ate onion pizza, and watched old episodes of Doctor Who. Cori notes that Berg was the best friend because he never judged anyone. I agree. Those are the best types of friends.

However, it’s also revealed that Berg had a complicated past that he hid from most everyone. When the Guy misses his chance to say something about his old friend, he goes wandering around the house. He heads to the upstairs bathroom and tilts the door closed, revealing an old letter from a child addressed to “Daddy”. The picture is framed, but the memorial sadly has no sign of any of Berg’s children.

The ideas of dying alone, alienating affection, and feeling stuck in a rut have been recurring themes peppered into the HBO run of the series. At the end of Season 1, the Guy openly wondered whether continuing to sell weed was the right career path, and throughout Season 2, there were several moments in which viewers could see him quietly contemplating his deepest fears.

In the wake of the Guy’s divorce, this fear is fully understandable, and, in fact, this exact fear was previously explored in Season 2 episode “Ghost”. In the second vignette, the Guy helps an older man get into his apartment, and he slowly realizes that the man has dementia and no one is caring for him. The Guy never actively comments on the situation, but through Sinclair’s body language and vocal inflection, we witness his increasing discomfort with the situation, not only because of the difficult interaction, but also because it’s clearly bringing up some uncomfortable feels within his own mind.

Ultimately, the Guy is a social creature who is seeking a companion, and his unresolved feelings of grief regarding his divorce continue to loom large in Season 3. However, after Berg’s funeral, he seems ready to move on. The next day he heads to the lake to paddleboard and encounters a cute girl named Leigh (Britt Lower). They immediately click, grabbing food, playing the old schoolyard game M.A.S.H, and chatting about divorce and heartbreak into the wee hours of the night. The Guy ends up sleeping (just sleeping, so cute) at her house overnight.

Ben Sinclair, Britt Lower.photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site.
Ben Sinclair, Britt Lower.photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

The next day, the two hit up a farmers market and a vintage video store. As they start to part ways, Leigh admits to the Guy that she’s pregnant with her ex’s baby. Even so, the two decide to keep this thing going. Here’s hoping we see more of the adorable Leigh in future episodes.

As the Guy is making his love connection, we also check in with Cori. Like humans are wont to do, she is actively self-medicating her grief, smoking and drinking her way through the next few days. Somehow – even though the memorial was chock full of people – she’s been tasked with cleaning up all of Berg’s stuff by herself. I suppose their connection was deeper than most other people who simply looked at Berg as a chill weed hookup.

Cori wakes up on Berg’s couch, waking and baking to numb the pain away as soon as she achieves consciousness. As she continues to pack Berg’s belongings, she comes across an old CD mix that he probably forgot to give her. She pops it in and turns it on, letting music transport her to a place where she can finally let go and feel true catharsis.

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Random Thoughts Before I Go:

  • High Maintenance has always trafficked in realistic nudity – especially in the first episode of each new HBO season – and while the scene with Berg and the boiling pot of water was nerve wracking, it also confirms that the show is still here for us when it comes to showcasing and celebrating nude bodies in all forms.
  • Curious about the record the Guy left at the memorial? Check it out here.
  • The Guy is still rocking that portable hammock that Candace and John gifted him back in Season 2. And now I kind of want one.
  • It’s worth noting that Vassar College is in Poughkeepsie. The Guy went to Vassar, and he also started selling weed in college. Perhaps Berg was his first intro to the world of dealing?

‘High Maintenance’ airs Sundays at 10:30/9:30c on HBO.