Avery Monsen’s Evan, the Asexual Magician, has been a part of High Maintenance since nearly the beginning and his return highlights the strengths of the long-running series. I have always adored seeing this character because he brings a refreshing and lived-in presence that isn’t quite the level of Brooklyn cool cat that we so often see on the show.
We first met Evan way back in 2013 in the web series episode “Dinah,” and a few of his subsequent episodes are referenced in this episode, giving him the most time in the spotlight since the 2014 installment “Genghis.” The longevity of High Maintenance, and its tendency to check in on familiar faces, allows us to have a deeper knowledge and understanding of Evan’s situation within this episode. Evan’s asexuality — which has always been a pillar of his identity — is particularly interesting to incorporate into this second episode of season four, “Trick,” which is entirely about intimacy, boundaries, relationships, and sometimes sex.
“Trick” starts with a brief look into an evening at Matthew’s (Calvin Leon Smith) apartment, as he prepares for a night with a male escort, Travis (comedian Jay Jurden). Their night doesn’t unfold as planned, as Matthew seems disappointed with Travis’ lack of suaveness and command of the situation. This is an interesting dynamic to see portrayed. The “trick” being the one who is perhaps awkward, or uncomfortable, with settling into the arrangement. Perhaps it’s because he’s thrown by the dynamic between them. With Matthew close in age to Travis, and also a gay black man as opposed to a married white one, Travis begins to chit-chat nervously through the evening.
Their night is full of stops and starts, movements towards and away from sex as they navigate what they want from the situation. Matthew seems more interested in “the boyfriend experience,” the sensation of having someone you can lay with quietly before having sex. Travis is perhaps more comfortable with the cut-and-dry sexual transaction. Ultimately, the sigh Matthew lets out once Travis leaves says it all: this didn’t work. To his credit, Travis seems to agree, as he leaves Matthew a “little refund,” for a less-than-satisfactory experience.
That plot is a decent appetizer for the main dish that follows. Like last week’s meta inclusion of the discussion of a scripted fight in the This American Life studios, this week’s look at the work of an intimacy coordinator makes us think of the coordination that must have been required for Matthew and Travis’s scenes together. Additionally, the escort plot illustrates the importance of communicating what you want in an intimate relationship, as well as what your expectations and boundaries are. The brilliance of “Trick” is that it shows the importance of an intimacy coordinator in movies and TV, in addition to real life.
Several minutes are spent introducing us to Kym (Abigail Bengson) and her work as an intimacy coordinator. As Kym explains, this relatively new job in the film industry is used to coordinate intimate scenes, just as filmmakers would do stunts. This often means sexual scenarios, but can include anything that “puts the actors through it.” In her work, we see her negotiate movements with actors Nick Kroll and Rebecca Hall, giving a girl much-needed knee pads, discussing the character development and camera movement in sex scenes.
By comparison, when Kym consults the director on what he envisioned for this sex scene, she’s met with a row of male crewmen who are silently signaling that they had no idea. This sequence illustrates precisely the benefit of intimacy coordinators and why they are needed. While many writers or directors will easily write “and then they have sex” into a script, they clam up when it’s time to carefully block it, leaving the actors to blindly simulate sex with each other. (For more information, read the stray notes!)
Once Kym meets Evan on set, they instantly hit it off and spend the rest of the day together. Their conversation over lunch is a fantastic little scene, with dialogue that convincingly has them getting to know each other while laying out their future conflict. Evan mentions his family and their chaotic Seders (as seen in web episode “Elijah”) and their disappointment in his bouncing around from job to job (he was a school teacher in “Genghis”). Kym discusses her work and, after Evan remarks that he “didn’t know intimacy could be coordinated,” she responds fervently, “intimacy must be coordinated.” We then spend the rest of the episode watching Evan and Kym coordinate intimacy with each other.
At the end of what Kym “thought” was a date, Evan comes out to her as asexual. Kym is thrown, but she handles it well enough at that moment. She even “knows the words,” which is evident when she asks if he is aromantic, which he is not. Despite this, awkwardness has formed, and a distance has opened up between them. We can see later that Kym is disappointed and a bit confused about how to move forward, or if she can.
The next day Evan and Kym meet, primarily to determine whether they have any future as a couple. They’re both bracingly honest in this discussion, with Evan laying down in basic terms his desire not to take part in any sexual activities, as well as his loneliness that makes any relationship with Kym so attractive. It’s not easy to find anyone you can feel comfortable with and even harder when your sexual preferences don’t align with theirs. Kym feels that same basic connection and attraction to Evan, but she knows what she needs in a relationship.
She notes that sex has “not been a great part of my life,” but that if she couldn’t share a hug with him or hold hands, she really couldn’t foresee any satisfying relationship. Kym’s honesty about sex in her life is so refreshing and real. If you only go by sex as seen in TV and movies, you would think that anyone having it is often satisfied by it, and always sexy while doing it. In reality, however, many people of all varying sexual identities have complicated relationships with sex. Kym stressing the importance of the smaller intimate gestures also underlines that intimacy doesn’t only refer to sex.
Evan understands what Kym is saying and makes a sweet, if odd, gesture towards negotiation. He takes her hand after a moment of decision and then kisses the inside of her wrist. They both seem surprised and they may decide they don’t need to do that in the future, but they have just coordinated their level of intimacy with each other. Every relationship should include these moments: discussing with your partner your boundaries and with what you feel comfortable. Additionally, if your partner feels they need something specific, you can discuss whether you can give that to them, and how.
During their lunch scene, Kym explains that in her role as an intimacy coordinator, if an actor isn’t comfortable with something “for whatever reason, or for no reason,” they don’t have to do it. She says that instead, they will find “another way to tell the story.” This is what Evan and Kym do with each other; if sex is off the table, they will find another way to tell their story.
- This episode was written by Isaac Oliver and directed by Katja Blichfeld.
- The final scene is the film scene presumably just before Nick Kroll and Rebecca Hall’s characters have sex. They share a very long and tension-riddled handshake while the Guy, as an extra, gets his freak on. The song is “Ain’t That a Kick” by Peter Ivers.
- I am in no way surprised that both Kym and Evan are big Steven Universe fans.
- Kym’s comments about her past sex life also brought to mind a lovely point that the second season of Sex Education made. When Gillian Anderson’s sex therapist character talks to an asexual teenager who believes she’s “broken,” she tells the girl that “sex doesn’t make you whole, so how could you ever be broken?” Kym’s statement repeats the notion that sex is not the key to a whole life that much of pop culture would suggest it is.
- Coincidentally just last weekend, CBS Sunday Morning featured a look at intimacy coordinators and how they quickly became a common practice. HBO is involved, naturally.