High Maintenance recap: Proxy

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

A childless mother and a motherless child process loss and grief in two very different ways on the latest High Maintenance.

Just like there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s, there’s no wrong way to grieve.

High Maintenance is no stranger to grief and loss, and knows that there are myriad ways to process sadness and pain. Back in the Season 2 opener, the series swept over the entirety of Brooklyn, cataloguing and lending credence to a wide range of reactions in the wake of a worldwide crisis. Then, in the Season 3 premiere, the Guy (Ben Sinclair) dealt with his very own loss, attending a memorial service for a friend, but not quite getting what he needed out of the experience.

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As Season 3 winds to a close, the series presents us with a duo of vignettes designed to document the fringes of grief response. One sequence focuses on a woman named Adrianna (Rosie Perez) who is excited to adopt a silicone baby from a YouTube channel, and the other spends time with a young boy named Eli (Gabriel Gurevich) who has taken on the persona of a dog in the wake of his mother’s tragic death.

While wildly different on the surface, these two characters are connected by the indescribable chasm of pain, loneliness, and longing that accompanies an unthinkable loss. High Maintenance is consistently so good at linking characters by highlighting the basest of human emotions and eliciting empathy in all places, no matter how “weird” or “creepy” they may seem at first glance.

When we first meet Adrianna, she’s cooing over a YouTube channel full of women caring for oddly lifelike baby dolls. The silicone dolls are treated like real children, with their carers changing their diapers, feeding them, and even taking them on shopping trips. It’s odd, but Adrianna is really into it. She finds one for $800 – a bargain, given that these types of dolls can go for thousands – and smacks her partner Arturo (Guillermo Diaz) awake with excitement.

The baby arrives at the apartment, and Adrianna goes into mommy mode. She swaddles the doll, promptly names it “Baby Nico” and begins to care for it night and day.

Rosie Perez is a wonder here. She’s always had some sort of otherworldly ability to telegraph complex emotions straight from the screen and into viewers’ hearts, often by using her gift for gab, but in this episode she does it with minimal dialogue. Her tender mannerisms with the baby belie some sort of painful loss in the past. Was she a mother who couldn’t have children? Did she lose a child in the past? Did she not want to have children and changed her mind after it was too late? But High Maintenance doesn’t concern itself with questions of the past, only with the present. We feel for this woman because we can see her pain, and while specific experiences aren’t always relatable, bottomless feelings of indescribable pain and loss are.

One day, Arturo and Adrianna accidentally leave Nico in his stroller outside of a hardware store, leading a passing nosy Nancy to spot the doll and think its actually a live child. To be fair, seeing an unattended infant sitting on the sidewalk would certainly be a reason to call the cops, so the lady does. Arturo and Adrianna finally exit the store, and are confronted by this judgmental woman. But instead of shattering the illusion that Nico is real, and telling the woman that there’s just a doll in the carriage, Adrianna chooses to stand up and fight.

High Maintenance
Ben Sinclair, Guillermo Diaz, Rosie Perez.photo: David Russell. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

The cops arrive on the scene, and Arturo reaches the end of his rope. He yanks Nico out of the stroller and waves him around for everyone to see. It’s a doll. Not a baby. Adrianna is bereft, but it’s enough for the cops to break up the altercation and send everyone home. As the couple leaves, the Guy (Ben Sinclair) saunters by and notices that they’ve dropped their purchase, a tube of clear epoxy, and he hands it to them like a good citizen.

In the coda to this story, Adrianna wakes up from a nap on the couch to find that Arturo is fixing a small cut on Nico’s arm with the epoxy. He’s gently cradling the baby in his arms, finally ready to accept this new addition to the family.

Elsewhere, a dancer named Erin (Christine Elmo) heads to her day job as a nanny for two rich kids. She’s stuck making a paycheck here, but her dreams aren’t down for the count yet. As she goes about her morning, making breakfast for the younger son Eli, verbally sparring with the older daughter, and rousing the dad out of bed, she also texts her friend about a potential performance space for a project.

Eli tags along as Erin scouts out places in the concrete jungle to film her dance moves. With Eli manning her iPhone camera, she prances through bleachers and grooves around parking lots, getting footage for her act. All the while, Eli is just jonesing to go to the park because he’s a dog. Erin, presumably having been with this family before the mother Margo passed away, seems to understand and validate Eli’s impulses for the most part. He can walk on all fours, pant, and ruff to his heart’s desire, but when he growls at a waiter, she draws a line.

As she goes to pay for lunch, Erin realizes that she’s forgotten her wallet elsewhere. Where, you ask? Well, she stayed with the Guy in his RV the previous night, so she gives him a buzz.

When he gets the call, the Guy is hanging out on top of Steve RV, reading and smoking a joint as per ushe. In a humorous sequence, a Polish girl narrates everything the Guy is doing for her father in both English and Polish in an attempt to help him learn the language. Sadly, this game is cut short when Erin calls for assistance.

The Guy finds her in a dog park. Eli is rolling on the ground with abandon, communing with some small dogs, and the two chat. Erin wants out of her day job, and the Guy encourages her to follow her heart. But unfortunately, the Guy isn’t really on the up and up here. When Erin asks him to hang later that night, he makes it clear that their hookup was just a one night thing. This is both a dick move and out of character given what we know about the Guy, but I guess everyone needs some nookie every once in awhile.

Frustrated by her encounter with the Guy, Erin heads back to the house to drop Eli off. She gets into an argument with the bratty daughter and quits, liberating herself from a soul-crushing day job. But in an ending reminiscent of the “Gatsby” episode in Season 1, Eli stares out the window, mourning the loss of his companion. He takes a pair of her forgotten sunglasses and sneaks out into the night to bury them in a treasure chest of his most cherished belongings, yet another memory to mourn.

Next. High Maintenance Recap: Messy Spano. dark

Random Thoughts Before I Go:

  • The werewolf baby unboxing at the end was disturbing but definitely fitting given the two stories in this episode.
  • When talking to Erin about her desire to leave her job, the Guy says, “You know what Tolstoy says about unhappy families? Don’t work for ’em.” First off, this is rich coming from the Guy, a man who delivers to more unhappy people than I can count. And second, Tolstoy’s actual quote – the first line in the classic novel Anna Karenina –  goes “all happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Word.

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