Last year felt incredibly long. Tonight it felt even longer as I realized that High Maintenace was off the air for the entirety of 2017. Most significantly, the last new episode to air was on October 21, 2016, still a few weeks before the Presidential Election. Boy. It’s only fitting, then, that the series returns after being gone through an entire year of terrible things with an episode in which something terrible has happened.
Co-creators Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair (who also stars as The Guy) have kept up an impressive run of episodes – this is their seventh as an HBO series, but twenty-sixth counting their Vimeo run – and they don’t seem to have lost any of their unique touches. A lot of what I love about High Maintenance is here in this episode, especially the generosity and humanity of its spirit. The show is ostensibly about a weed guy and the wacky people he meets through his business, but over time it has deepened further and further into an exploration of modern life and a celebration of all the things people have in common with each other. Sometimes what they have in common is a desire to smoke up. Blichfeld and Sinclair – who have written and directed all but three High Maintenance episodes ever* – also have a real knack for upending our conventional expectations, and they certainly deliver that in “Globo.”
The episode begins with a short, but delightfully wacky dream sequence in which The Guy sees one of his more memorable clients (Homeless Heidi! a.k.a. Greta Lee) and then has his beard pulled off by a Russian hairdresser (Kate Lyn Sheil). It’s a cute, funny way into the episode before things get darker for The Guy and his customers. Waking up with Beth, the Australian Bartender (Yael Stone) we saw him dating last season, they soon play out something we’re all familiar with by now: checking your phone in the morning only to see that something terrible has happened and having the reality of the nastiness of the world hit you in the face just as you had let yourself forget it. They smartly never attempt to give details about what has happened. I assume the event takes place in New York City, but otherwise we don’t need to know the lurid fictional details as we can so easily relate to what the characters are feeling. High Maintenance has never been a show that wants to wallow in the miserable; it wants to celebrate life. And so, the episode follows a few different people as well as the conversations of peripheral extras to examine how life changes, and doesn’t, on days like these.
I do love that High Maintenance has not felt an obligation to merely stretch out their online episodes (which, in the beginning, were just a couple minutes long) to half hours. They follow a character for as long as their action remains interesting, and then they follow another – which is what happens in “Globo.”
The Guy is in high demand (ha!), and we see him stop off at a customer’s apartment. The customer, Brian,o is staying home from work, wrapping himself in a blanket and crying at the “phantasmagoria of despair” out there. His roommate, Cody, is just trying to keep up his normal routine as best he can. We follow him to a nearly empty gym, and then a spin class with an instructor who is hilariously still full-on Spin Class Instructor Energetic and speaking to the room as if it is full, when it only consists of one other person. During this journey, Cody writes up Snapchat posts boasting of his impressive weight loss milestone – “First time under 275 since High School!!” – but keeps backing out when he’s reminded of the day’s somber tone by outside forces while simultaneously struggling against the temptation to dig into some sweet, fatty comfort food. His calm façade starts to crack after he thinks a woman at the gym calls him a “monster,” and after he sees a protest sign that seems to damn him by saying “if you are neutral in times of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” After that he sees a sign that says “we all deserve a freakin’ cookie today.” That does it, and he immediately buys a cookie along with a syrup- and whipped cream-heavy drink. Sometimes you really do need a cookie.
The next segment is full of the classic High Maintenance twists and turns. A man and a woman lie naked in a hotel bed and shoo away room service. At first it seems as though they’re two people who met at a party and had a one-night stand, a first for the woman. But then another man, Justin, emerges from the bathroom equally nude, and we learn he is the first man’s co-worker and roommate as well. These lovely people have been in the hotel room all night and day having (nearly) every conceivable iteration of a “Devil’s Threeway.” That also means that their phones are dead, and they haven’t been able to charge them. Soon after The Guy arrives with their delivery, they also receive some phone chargers and finally discover all that happened. They weren’t having a threesome on purpose because of the tragedy, as The Guy initially suspected, but his “YOLO” still stands. Finally, we get the hilarious and skewed punch line to this segment: over a shared phone call with “Mom,” we learn that these two guys are also brothers. It’s an excellent way to subvert our previous perspective on their sex scenes. While we see them in various positions, we never see the guys touch (though they get mighty close). We do see a moment where they seem unenthusiastic about the woman moving one guy’s hand to the other’s butt. We learn they’re brothers who draw the line at actually touching each other during sex. This is a fair line to draw.
Finally, we end up in the bar where Beth works as a bartender. She’s downing shots, as the patrons of the bar basically act like you would expect they would, only now with regards to the tragic event. At the end of a long, long day, we follow the waiter, Luis, from the bar, as he makes his sleepy journey home. We see a glimpse of him during the day, working at a different restaurant full of privileged Brooklyn-ites. Because of the earlier scene we know that he was working at the bar until 4 a.m., and has to go pick up his son at his sister’s apartment before going home.
Through the long train rides he makes sure to carry a purple balloon from the bar for his young son. The final scene is simple, but perfectly so. Luis plays around with his kid on the train, newly energized by the son’s youthful energy and ignorance of all that’s bad in the world. The sleepy and sad passengers in the car gradually turn their attention to the family, joining in on the fun and smiling and relaxing with relief at the sight of unsullied happiness and love.
The episode overall is a bit scattered and also a bit stuffed, but it succeeds where it almost always does: with a reminder of just how good people can be. We’ve had a lot of days in the past year-plus that remind us how cruel and ignorant people in this world can be. But what keeps us able to keep living in any capacity (as opposed to staring at our phones for hours on end in a stress-spiral) are the moments that remind us that good things still exist, and can still be good. High Maintenance, of course, is one of these things.
* According to the show’s Wikipedia page, this season will bring in a handful of new writers and at least one new director. I’m interested to see if that will change the show at all, maybe by writing from a few new perspectives.
– The episode title is Spanish for “balloon.”
– They didn’t go into it much, but I found it interesting that Beth kept claiming camaraderie with Luis as a fellow immigrant (“We gotta stick together!”). While technically true, their immigrant experiences are surely very different. It would be interesting if they dig into that at some point this season.
– Something I caught on second watch that has double meaning: the brothers actually keep calling each other “bro” throughout the encounter. Men!
– The credits scene is the threesome girl thoroughly scrubbing herself, still icked out by her experience with brotherly love.