In “Adelante,” director Ben Sinclair references the 1990 Iranian film Close-Up and a memorable, lingering shot of a can rolling down the street. In the Abbas Kiarostami-directed movie, the moment acts like a pause for the viewer amidst an emotionally complicated experience. In this installment of High Maintenance, that shot is repeated, but acts as a pause for the viewer as well as the character. This episode is full of pauses and of moments where we get to sit with a character through awkward, frustrating, or surprising encounters. This episode lets itself breathe and, in doing so, it becomes the most moving installment of the season so far.
The episode begins strong with a pre-title sequence that is nearly seven minutes long. We initially follow a returning favorite, Lainey (Heléne Yorke), who we have not seen since Season 1 of HBO’s High Maintenance. Lainey and her best friend Max (Max Jenkins) were known collectively as the Assholes and, along with “Homeless Heidi” and Evan, the Asexual Magician, are two of my favorite recurring characters on the show. In their initial appearances, they were the worst people you loved to hate. However, when we last saw them in Season 1’s “Meth(od),” their relationship erupted as Max confronted their co-dependency. That is all why their reappearance here makes perfect, cosmic sense.
The moment she and Max reunite in a rideshare is subtle and wonderful. The camera rests on Lainey as the unseen rideshare passenger gets in the car. It’s naturally awkward and silent for a bit until we can almost feel the other person looking at Lainey even as she doesn’t look at them. And then Max says hello, delivered in the most perfectly subtle, yet weighted manner. Neither can believe the chances and Lainey is especially anxious about being confronted with her old friend she failed. Heléne Yorke’s performance of Lainey’s awkwardness is perfect as well. We sit in the back seat with these two for several minutes, as Max sits perfectly still and calm while Lainey exaggeratedly sighs, yawns, and makes random mouth sounds to fill the silence. She even feigns crying for a second, then falls back on an old inside joke to get some reaction from Max.
This joke doesn’t initially get him to react, but the driver’s serious response to it does. They share the briefest laugh, followed by a quick but sincere “I’m sorry” from Lainey. These two were never emotional with each other, so even seeing Lainey say that much feels like growth. Of course, Max doesn’t need to respond with more emotion. Instead, he responds with another joke, which just seems to be imitating Ted Levine in The Silence of the Lambs. And as soon as it started, the interaction is over. This awkward, meaningful-but-not-meaningful, six minutes in the lives of these characters is a delicious nugget of character work that High Maintenance excels at and I’m so glad they got two of the best characters and actors in their arsenal to see it through.
The rest of the episode follows Nora (Eliza Ramos), a dental hygienist, student, mother, and caretaker who is continuously on the move, working, studying, and serving those she loves around her. The introduction of Nora is great storytelling as well and conveys a lot of information quickly. Her relationship with her daughter Minnie (Yadira Guevara-Prip) is fleshed out very quickly, as we see Nora show up in a college class they both attend. Minnie has the typical “oh, it’s my mother” reaction while Nora is beaming, happy to be in school and to see her kid. Nora’s daily routine is expanded upon further in a very effective montage sequence.
While montages can sometimes be used to replace plot, High Maintenance knows how to use them well. This use is especially effective because, as we see Nora’s days repeat, we also see and understand the toll it takes on her. We can see that she puts a lot of pressure on herself, as well as those around her, as evidenced by when she gets upset with Minnie for not showing up for class when Nora can make it, despite all of her other responsibilities. Nora doesn’t allow herself a break, but at the end of this stressful period, she takes the first step in letting herself have a night for herself. She accepts a previously-offered date from a patient, Peter (John Ellison Conlee), and takes herself off-duty.
This date is typically awkward and un-amazing, as you would expect, but it is a good change of routine. Nora isn’t very interested in Peter, but she’s trying to give him a chance and open up her life to moments of relief or joy. However, she gets called home from the date by Minnie, who is watching Marco at home. For the entire episode up to this point, we had not seen Marco, the man who requires Nora’s and others’ care-taking. We heard him from the bedroom and I assumed he was perhaps a brother or other male relative. What we found out at the end of Nora’s night is that Marco (Manuel Cabrero) is Nora’s husband. We don’t learn any more about his condition, but we know he wasn’t always as he is now.
Nora naturally still has a lot of love for him and asks him, “Do you remember this dress? And how we used to go dancing?” This “reveal” feels only slightly like a purposefully hidden reveal and more like a carefully placed detail. If we had known this situation before Nora went on her date, we might have looked at her differently. As it is, we know that this situation is more complicated than we realize. While Nora is technically married to Marco (he’s still wearing his ring, anyway), he doesn’t appear to be cognizant of their relationship and Minnie is supportive of her mom having an equal relationship when she needs it. But seeing Nora lovingly spend a few minutes with Marco at the end of her crazy night tells us that all of what Nora does is not out of obligation, but love.
Through Max and Lainey’s brief reunion and Nora’s relationship with her husband, High Maintenance gives us two deftly-executed illustrations of how the love between people can change, evolve, and transform into something else without discarding the value of that original relationship.
- This episode was written by Lorelei Ramirez and Ben Sinclair and, as noted, directed by Sinclair.
- The title, “Adelante” means “forward,” which is a great, simple way to sum up some of the themes of this episode.
- The end credits are maybe my favorite of the season so far. We watch Max perform in his musical group’s performance he was on the way to when in the rideshare, with “Everyday” by Weyes Blood playing (“then again, love’s not easy…”). This is a great song from a fantastic album, and I highly recommend a listen!
- The Guy’s more fun-awkward rideshare experience, as well as Nora’s insane musician driver, are other instances of fun pauses within the episode. We spend much more time with both of those scenes than I thought we would, but they were enjoyable reprieves from the more serious beats in this episode.