High Maintenance recap: Fingerbutt

Kathleen Chalfant, Mary Louise Guinier.photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site.
Kathleen Chalfant, Mary Louise Guinier.photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

Featuring mushrooms and models, this week’s episode of High Maintenance is brought to you by the letter M.

Don’t Google fingerbutt. Just don’t. I didn’t, but you shouldn’t either.

The latest episode of High Maintenance, entitled “Fingerbutt”, is named after a silly selfie trick that our asexual friend Evan (Avery Monsen) teaches Abdullah (Abdullah Syed). If you zoom up close enough, your bent knuckles can also look like a butt!

(Note: FYI, legs can also look like hot dogs. #TheMoreYouKnow)

I’ve been hoping for Evan to show up ever since High Maintenance made the move to HBO. A delightfully frequent guest on the old webisodes, his character was sorely missed. He’s back, and he hasn’t changed a bit, that ole magical rascal. Apparently Evan’s job is to spread joy across the world, because his invention of the fingerbutt soon spreads and delights an older woman named Mamie (Kathleen Chalfant) as she navigates a photo shoot.

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Earlier in the episode, we meet Mamie, a knowledgable, no-nonsense businesswoman. She owns a shop that specializes in beautifully made accents for the home. Mamie works with a young friend who occasionally posts pictures of her on her Instagram. No big deal. But one of her followers peeped Mamie’s look and wants her for an upcoming ad campaign.

Interest piqued, Mamie converses with her fabulous friends about the decision, glowing with the possibility of modeling, but also wary of the potential pitfalls. Once her friend mentions sizable pay as a part of the deal, they all agree that Mamie should lean in to that shizz.

As she arrives at the shoot, Mamie is overwhelmed. The staff disingenuously fawns over her, heaping generic praise on her every time she walks by, all so they can get the look they need. The makeup artist scrubs Mamie’s face of the makeup she’s already applied that day, and wardrobe dresses her in a shapeless sack. Understandably, Mamie isn’t pleased – she’s too old for this crap – but she’s sweet as a peach, so she goes with the flow.

When she’s finally up for the actual shoot, Mamie’s displeasure and discomfort come across loud and clear in her wooden body language and less-than-enthusiastic smiles. She’s not feelin’ it. So one of the assistants deploys the Fingerbutt, showing Mamie the pic and then sliding out of frame so her organic reaction can be caught on film and monetized. The greatest trick photographers have taught the world is that genuine emotion photographs best.

A month later, the ad campaign is out in full force in the city. Mamie’s picture graces the cover of magazines and papers an entire city sidewalk near one of her favorite haunts. It’s overwhelming, and also frustrating because she’s been airbrushed into oblivion.

Feelin’ no pain after some drinks with her girls, Mamie feels emboldened. She heads down to the local bodega and nabs a few Sharpies. As she alters each of her images to reflect the battle scars of a life well lived, an off-duty officer stumbles upon her act of vandalism. Because it’s her, he’s totally cool with it. He asks for a selfie, and Mamie radiates with pure joy.

The next vignette focuses on a veterinarian named Gene (Ken Leung) in the midst of a mental health crisis. However, the man is so high functioning that no one even suspects that anything is wrong with him. He compartmentalizes his life, mostly just smoking weed in his apartment and getting rub-and-tugs in his free time.

Gene does have a therapist, but quite frankly, she’s not the best. She asks if he uses marijuana, and instead of exploring the issue with him further, she cuts it off by leveling criticism and judgement at him. She immediately offers up a professional observation that the people most resistant to meds are most prone to addiction. Ok. Hmm. That may be the case, but in my experience as a therapist – specifically in the field of addiction – a dismissive and judgmental attitude is one of the absolute fastest ways to alienate your client’s willingness to be honest and open while in session.

Despite the therapist’s negative and reductive attitude about his self-medication with weed, Gene still finds the wherewithal to ask her about microdosing with psychedelic mushrooms. One look from Judgy McJudge Face tells us all we need to know about her opinion on that particular subject.

High Maintenance
Ken Leung.photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations. /

Gene soldiers on anyhow. And, in the next scene, the Guy (Ben Sinclair) has appeared in the vet’s apartment, selling him a bar of mushroom chocolates. In order to microdose, the Guy suggests taking “a nibble of a nibble” each morning, but that dosage sounds questionable at best. It’s wildly unscientific, and the lack of specificity soon encourages the doc to self-administer his own dose depending on how he’s feeling each day.

Bad call. Seeing as he’s seeking out a high to manage symptoms of depression, the vet soon falls into the insidious trap of overuse, quickly followed by psychological addiction and then overdose.

At first, things seem to be going well, as – when he’s actually micro dosing – the substance allows Gene to be a bit more open with his staff and his customer base. Loose as a goose, he’s able to better commune and become one with the animals he treats, getting down on their level and paying extra special attention to all the fun feels involved.

It’s no surprise that Gene soon flies too close to the sun. As his daily intake increases, he goes full Fear and Loathing, slinking, slurring, and staring throughout his days. Ignoring all of these warning signs, Gene seeks out information on the internet, finding a site that says using mushrooms on consecutive days “may lead to a diminished experience.” So, instead of doing the logical thing and taking a break in his psilocybin intake, he chooses to up the wattage, chomping down an entire square of the chocolate before work the next morning.

Big mistake. Huge. Things go horribly wrong. He starts to lose his grip on reality, sinking fully into a poorly timed trip. He finally does the responsible thing and tries to leave when a mom and daughter fly into the office with a kitten in a tuba.

No, this is not a trip. There’s really a kitten stuck in a tuba. A. Kitten. Stuck. In. A. Tuba. What.

Unable to abandon the situation, Gene tries to shake off his high so he can help. Spoiler Alert: He fails miserably. And what follows is a jaw-dropping sequence in which he tries to loosen the stuck gato by slamming and banging the tuba against the floor as the aghast owners look on in horror. Eventually, he uses the forceps to extract the kitty from the instrument, lofting it into the sky like a  prize. But, uh, el gato es muerto.

At the conclusion of the episode, Gene returns to his therapist. Having agreed to take the anti-depressants, he’s doing better mentally, but there are side effects. He can’t get hard at his rub-and-tug sessions anymore, and that’s a huge bummer.

Keeping mental health in check can certainly feel like a slog, but Gene here is medicating the symptoms, not the problem itself. It’s clear throughout the entirety of his vignette that he’s upset and depressed because of the nature of his job. And nothing – not a pill, not weed, not even a psychedelic-laced chocolate bar – can fix that.

Next. High Maintenance Recap: Payday. dark

Random Thoughts Before I Go:

  • If you’re seriously interested in microdosing, please do your research first. Don’t just go out and gnaw on mushroom chocolates.  Find a doctor you can talk to about the issue – even if it’s just reaching out to a researcher currently engaging in the research. Gimlet podcast Reply All just recently did an episode on microdosing with LSD. That might be a good place to start educating yourself about the process. Also, recent book “How to Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan contains some pretty eye-opening reporting on the subject.
  • It was a true delight to watch Avery Monsen cheerily bob around and do magic in the credits sequence of this episode. To revisit old times with Evan, you can check out webisodes “Sufjan”, “Genghis”, “Elijah”, and “Dinah”.
  • I tried the Fingerbutt at home. My dog was not impressed.

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