It’s a little odd to step back into the old routine of High Maintenance after two such relatively serial installments focused on The Guy, but “HBD” unfolds like the best short stories. It has just enough material to feel complete, but manages to linger in your mind despite its seemingly bare bones.
The majority of the episode is devoted to following teenager Emily (Gina Piersanti) on her birthday. Her day is quiet and a little lonely, even while she has a few friends over. We can see that Emily has a distant relationship with her mom, Renee (Miriam Shor), although “distant” isn’t quite the word for it. Rather, their relationship is very casual, with roles slightly reversed. It’s Emily, who calls her mom “Renee” even when referring to her in conversation with others, who is the one reminding Renee to call if she’ll be out late and who lightly scolds Renee for wearing her clothes without asking. It becomes plain that Emily wishes her mom was more of a mother instead of a roommate, as she even slips out a quick “Mom” before more clearly asking “Renee” if she can call her later that night.
The bridge between childhood and adulthood is especially difficult to navigate during your teens, and Emily’s relationship with her mother exemplifies that. Renee treats Emily like an adult, and it’s clear that Emily is mature enough to handle the responsibilities that then land on her shoulders, but at the same time Emily literally grows older and she wants to be a bit of a kid and have her mom around. Another recent mother-daughter-centric piece of fiction posits that paying attention is a form of showing love. By that standard, it’s no surprise that Emily lights up when Claudia (Cécile Delepière), Renee’s visiting European friend, takes the time to look at and speak to Emily, and even notices her artwork and asks about them admiringly. Every scene Emily and Renee share features Renee flying around the room, back from somewhere or out to somewhere new, never stopping and never engaging with Emily in any meaningful way. The little moments of attention Claudia pays Emily eventually results in Emily being moved to kiss Claudia, an action reciprocated for a moment by the older woman.
I didn’t think the feelings of these two women would move in this direction until a couple minutes before the plot made that turn. It’s a complicated moment and, for me, it almost risks cheapening Emily’s feelings about her mom by jumping to the assumed end result of anyone with “mommy or daddy issues” (see: what anybody thinks when they see a young woman dating an older man). But because we’ve gotten to see some of Emily’s life, we can understand how attractive this attention must feel to her. The complexity of the moment is maintained by Claudia responding to the kiss, without immediately backing off or reprimanding her. It takes their connection beyond just Emily yearning for an older woman’s attention.
That’s the most resolution we get regarding Emily’s relationship with her mother and Claudia, as we see the three of them the next morning amid the very awkward air between Claudia and Emily – which Renee, of course, fails to notice. Emily tries to reach out, and strokes Claudia’s arm warmly, but Claudia avoids eye contact and quickly leaves the room after Renee, the two of them leaving her alone once again. The bittersweet knowledge of how Emily can open herself up to someone if they would just take the time to really notice her stays with us, and likely with Emily.
- This episode was written by Katja Blichfeld and directed by Eliza Hittman, director of last year’s Beach Rats.
- If you’re like me a few years ago and keep seeing “hbd” without knowing what it means, it means “Happy Birthday!” And it is the laziest way to say a phrase that is already so simple.
- We DO see the Guy in this episode, of course, and it’s mainly a quick run-down of him back on the job, selling to old customers – including Becky and Colin, played by Katja Blichfeld and Dan Stevens, previously of episodes “Rachel” and “Museebat“. (I honestly think this character is my favorite Dan Stevens role). The Guy is happy to be back and his customers are happy to see him – his sub Abdullah was “very professional… but not [the Guy].”
- Related to above, from what I’ve heard about Dan Stevens (good things), it’s likely he was just in town for a day or two and agreed to show up for this very brief return for kicks. Dude doesn’t need to do this anymore!
- The credits feature the Guy trying to hail a cab or an Uber or call somebody, anything for his pregnant customer. She had just passed her mucus plug when we last saw her, so I’m glad this was picked up again – it’s time for the bloody show, baby! (Thanks, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).
- The Guy’s face after Emily’s friend Zoe asks if Renee and Claudia “are going to a sex party” and Emily says “probably” is so great and a perfect example of Sinclair’s subtle comedic chops.