High Maintenance doesn’t often employ traditional visual metaphors, but this week we see two couples respectively facing towards and away from fireworks both literally and in their relationship, and the show pulls off that small shred of cheese pretty well.
“Dongle” primarily follows Oscar (Cedric Leiba Jr.) and his bodega crush Angel (Juan Torres-Falcon) and The Guy and Lee (Britt Lower) as young Sophia (Thandi Ines) roller-skates in and out of their orbit as she and her family work to facilitate a spectacular fireworks show. Oscar and Angel are the couple who are in the earliest of early stages, all butterflies and obvious crushing. There are a lot of nice, subtle shades in the characterization of Oscar and his world here, and it’s done quite deftly while still maintaining the overall light tone of the episode. We know Oscar has recently moved to Brooklyn from Puerto Rico, most likely due to the devastation from Hurricane Maria and he has just started a construction job.
We see him getting his bearings in this new city, with new friends and habits (learning the “coffee regular” code) as his crush on Angel (who indeed has a very cute smile) plants the seeds of his comfort with this new home and the people he can build a new future with. The exchange that Oscar and Angel finally have while viewing the fireworks — their first conversation that isn’t forced via Oscar buying drinks upon drinks at Angel’s bodega — is natural and flirty, and organically tied to their Puerto Rican identity without that being their only reason to converse. This connection is an exciting piece of a foundation that Oscar is building in his new home, and for him, the fireworks are exciting and real and undeniably in-his-face.
On the other hand, The Guy and Lee seem to be in a weird spot in their relationship. Things aren’t exactly bad, but they’re not great. We catch them in traffic, waiting in The Guy’s RV to go to a party with Lee’s friends. They have a conversation that, again, isn’t necessarily bad and isn’t mean, but it’s one of those where every joke lands with a thud and every attempt to get a topic rolling heads toward a brick wall. It’s not really how you expect to communicate with someone you’ve been in a relationship with for at least a few months. Understandably, Lee is anxious about this party as it’s full of her friends who knew her and her husband-of-ill-repute, and they could all potentially be judging Lee for her actions. And her inability to know if they are is driving her a bit mad.
The Brooklyn of High Maintenance has always been small, but it seems especially tiny in “Dongle” when The Guy’s ex-wife Jules (Kate Lyn Sheil) appears at Lee’s friend’s boat party. As we saw last season, The Guy and Jules have a pretty great relationship, and it’s as sturdy as ever here, especially when compared to The Guy and his more recent partner. The Guy and Lee have their own rapport and their own way of being with each other, but compared to the lived-in chemistry of The Guy and Jules, it feels unsubstantial. Things look even murkier for our Guy when he can tell that Jules doesn’t quite like Lee. Jules, unfortunately, is kind of judging Lee, as Lee feared people would, and wants to know “why she defended him.” She makes a good point when she explains further that, with Lee and her ex, this whole thing could get really “messy.” She’s right! Lee has been through a lot in the past few months, starting before she even met The Guy, and it just doesn’t seem like their relationship is strong enough to withstand such extreme outside forces.
Lee, not feeling the party, suggests they leave early. Of course, the RV can’t sputter to life, so they call a car to drive them home. Once they’re in the car the fireworks finally start, The Guy is pleased to see them and enjoys the show. Lee, meanwhile, can’t be bothered to check them out and dismisses it because she “gets the picture.” It seems simple, but this little fireworks display underlines the basic disconnect at the heart of The Guy and Lee’s relationship right now, as each partner reacts differently to the show, or doesn’t even want to look at it. They’re both facing and feeling different things, and they both have their valid reasons for doing so. It’s becoming clearer that they are not completely on the same wavelength, and perhaps this is spelling the end for The Guy’s latest romantic journey.
- This episode was written by Mitra Jouhari, Zack Schamberg, and Mel Shimkovitz and was directed by Silas Howard.
- The credits footage is of The Guy jumping into the water while wearing his pilgrim costume. The clip is reversed, though, so it looks like the Guy is emerging from the water and walking towards us with crazy eyes.
- The title, “Dongle,” is as Lee calls it “that cord thingy” that always seems to be the missing key in facilitating digital presentations. Specifically here, it is the bodega-available key to the fireworks display that Sophia picks up when her brother forgets a dongle; and it is the cord which Lee uses to play her “music” in the car. (That “music” turns out to be some meditation or yoga chants… so sorry, not sorry I just had to put “music” in quotes; this is honestly the most unlikable Lee moment by miles).
- The very word “dongle” takes me right back to college. It often felt like every professor was constantly scrambling for a dongle and it was always the reason their presentation was either 10 minutes late or just didn’t happen. Get it together, everyone!
- The Guy’s mole was checked out! His “dermy” did call it “a cancer, but not cancer.” Okay??
- Shout out to the caption writer who wrote all the extra letters when Angel says “Daaamnn. You’re so flirty.”
Edit: The review initially called Oscar “Oliver” several times, and as of March 7, those instances have been corrected. Thank you to Cedric Leiba Jr. (“Oscar” himself) for pointing that out!