High Maintenance recap: Messy Spano

Kate Lyn Sheil, Ben Sinclair.photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site.
Kate Lyn Sheil, Ben Sinclair.photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

One relationship stalls while another blooms on the latest High Maintenance.

Bodegas are the lifeblood of New York City. From dongles to coffee, they provide a one stop shop for any and all daily needs. They’re also often a microcosm of humanity.

Strange connections are the backbone of High Maintenance, and bodegas can be melting pot motherlodes. The series has focused storylines around the humble corner store before, most notably last season. Episode “Derech” deftly intertwined three very different lives together, culminating in a spectacularly bloody finale on the floor of a bodega.

Here, in episode “Dongle”, a bodega serves as a thoroughfare for the people of Rockaway Beach, one of the furthest flung neighborhoods in the city. The community is super close-knit, and we witness that closeness first hand as the guys at the bodega routinely and casually pass along messages from a dad to his rollerblading tweenage daughter named Sophia (Thandi Inès). Sophia is getting ready for a fireworks party on the beach in a few days, posting up fliers all over the neighborhood. And, of course, that includes placing a sign on the window of her local bodega.

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The shop is the beating heart of the community, full of employees who are integral to the social support network. One day, Oscar (Cedric Lebia Jr.), a young man from Puerto Rico, heads to a new construction job in Rockaway Beach. It appears as if Oscar has just moved from his home for a work opportunity. He’s sleeping on a cot in a friend’s apartment, and he’s very curious yet cautious about everything he experiences. When he goes to the bodega on the first day, he places the first part of his order in English – egg on a roll – but isn’t so sure how to ask for his coffee. When Oscar explains in Spanish, the employee behind the counter responds in Spanish, explaining how to say “coffee, regular”. It’s a sweet and kind exchange.

Oscar starts to find ways to peep his bodega crush (Juan Torres-Falcon). He starts heading in for afternoon coffee breaks and spontaneously offers to grab Gatorades for his co-workers. He even has a friend pierce his ear old school stylez with a safety pin so he can match his paramour. (No ice though. Aye, Papi!)

Bodega crush isn’t always as attentive, but he does notice the earring. He even comments on it. Boy is finally paying attention, and it’s adorbs. The flirty part of a relationship is a literal rollercoaster of emotion, and even just watching two lovestruck people begin to awkwardly bond with one another can elicit all the feels.

Elsewhere in Rockaway, Lee (Britt Lower) and the Guy (Ben Sinclair) have passed the flirty phase, and their relationship might possibly be on the rocks. Like sporty tween Sophia, they’re also headed to a party for the fireworks. As the RV navigates through traffic, they pass Oscar with his construction stop sign, and the Guy gives him a little wave. (Cue “It’s A Small World”.)

The party is on a boathouse, and for some reason the theme is “Holidazzle”. Apparently this means come in green and red for Christmas, but the guy missed the memo, and he’s gone full sexy pilgrim. Lee is not happy about this. In fact, Lee isn’t happy about anything. She’s on the verge of a breakdown, stressed about going out to see her friends after her very public separation from her monstrous husband.

As the specter of Lee’s ex and his misdeeds looms over the party, we find out that the Guy’s actual ex is in attendance. Jules (Kate Lyn Sheil) says hello, and this prompts Lee to flee back to safety in the RV.

Of course the Guy follows to comfort his girlfriend, but Jules is close behind, knocking on the RV door as Lee nears full panic attack mode. The intrusion seems rude at first, especially given the heightened emotional state that Lee is in, but the Guy rolls with it. He passes some ganj around for maximum chillness, but Lee isn’t calming down. Prompted by the host, the Guy and Jules head into town for some beer.

Turns out that Jules has some capital T, Thoughts on Lee. As we know from a few episodes back, Lee’s husband was a well-known actor who was accused of doing terrible things to several women. The exact nature of his crimes has never been spelled out for us, but we can guess that his actions lie somewhere in the grey area of the #MeToo movement, much like Louis C.K. or Aziz Ansari. From what we know about him, he doesn’t seem too worried about his reputation or any pending legal action and, in fact, based on what we’ve seen of his behavior with Lee, they were likely in an emotionally (and possibly sexually) abusive relationship before they separated.

But all Jules can see is black and white. Through Jules, we find out that Lee attempted to defend her husband in the press after it was revealed that he did horrible things to women. The Guy is right in saying that the situation isn’t so cut and dry, but from Jules perspective as a woman who has never been in that situation, she thinks it is. Oh it’s so very easy to judge from the outside.

We do see that the Guy’s relationship with Jules is much more loose and easy than the one he has with Lee. Jules speaks in fluent pop culture references, while Lee does not. She never even watched Saved By The Bell. I’m so… I’m so… disappointed in you, Lee.

When they return to the party, Lee is still hiding out in the RV, so they decide to leave just before the fireworks start. The Guy is bummed, but he rolls with it, even when they have to order an Uber when Steve refuses to start up.

High Maintenance
Thandi Ines (right).photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

Over at the beach, Sophia saves the day when the fireworks party needs a dongle to connect music to a computer. She flies over to the bodega on her skates, buys the thing, and then effortlessly races back. The girl is a natural.

As the fireworks start, they shine down on multiple people having very different experiences. Sophia’s group of family and friends lean back and enjoy the show. The Guy peers out the window of the car, trying to take it all in while Lee is wallowing in an anxious misery in the corner of the same car. She also finds a life line in a dongle as she uses the Uber driver’s cable to put on some relaxing music to help improve her headspace.

And, as we’re possibly watching one relationship end, another begins. As the fireworks shine on, Oscar finally meets up with his crush. They chat about nothing and everything, alluding to making plans in both the near and far future. It’s that magical moment at the beginning of a relationship where fireworks are plentiful and anything can happen.

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Random Thoughts Before I Go:

  • It’s funny that Lee mentions “face aphasia” in this episode, because that’s not an actual term. But it’s been used recently on Natasha Lyonne’s trippy NYC comedy Russian Doll. Haven’t seen it? Check it out on Netflix.
  • Lee mentions that therapists aren’t allowed to acknowledge clients in public. Can confirm. Source: Am therapist. And the reason we can’t acknowledge you is for your own safety and confidentiality. Say I’m hanging out with a guy named Frank. You don’t know Frank, but Frank knows your sister. If I reveal that I’m your therapist, and then Frank tells your sister that you’re in therapy, my ass is on the line. Now, if you come up to me, it’s no problem. We’ll say hi and be cool like two little Fonzies. Ya dig?

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