In this week’s penultimate season four episode, High Maintenance considers two different perspectives on being alone, or “Solo.” The first section, which acts as a tantalizing appetizer for the entire installment, features a person who has perhaps lost self-awareness through living alone. The larger second portion of the episode looks at someone who continually feels alone even when they have ample opportunity for companionship. Like the most traditional High Maintenance episodes, these stories are uniquely city stories. With the consideration of apartment life in one and the complicated nature of being surrounded yet alone in the second, these stories are the kind this series is primed to tell.
The initial short segment is a gem of efficiency, topped with a classic High Maintenance twist. While delivering to Rocky (James Edmund Godwin), the Guy and his customer hear a sneeze. They both think it was the other person, but it wasn’t. They conclude it must have come from next door. “Got thin walls?” The Guy asks, to which Rocky responds, “I never heard anything before…” This introduces the idea that Rocky does have thin walls and just painfully quiet neighbors. This notion sends Rocky spiraling into a remembrance of all of the various things he has shouted and said in his apartment that, taken out of context from a neighbor, could be embarrassing and awkward to explain. Because Rocky is a puppeteer and storyteller, the things he has done are quite unusual. My favorite moment may be Rocky slow-dancing with a puppet while blasting “Crucify” by Tori Amos. These kinds of moments are uniquely High Maintenance because they’re funny and odd but, at the same time, rooted in character.
But that’s not the end of that. Rocky hears the sneeze once again and says, “Bless you!” through the wall. However, when Rocky opens up his closet, a man (!) is there (!!), wearing one of Rocky’s puppet masks (!!!). He sneezes, as Rocky yells in shock. And that’s that! High Maintenance has never felt the need to over-explain anything and that includes telling us what happens after something like this. It’s refreshing because the shock is entertaining enough and we don’t really need to know where this story goes from here.
The next portion of the episode is a bit more complex and contains hints of a much larger, more extended character history than we can comprehend in 20 minutes. This section tracks AJ (Becca Blackwell), who is having an afternoon rendezvous with a partner whose friend recently spotted AJ on a date with someone else. This turns out to be a much larger problem for AJ since he isn’t just seeing two people, but many people. In the ensuing scenes, AJ texts several people, “hey hunny, wyd tonight?” and then runs into an ex, Landon (Esco Jouléy). Landon and AJ reconnect, with Landon having gone through enough personal growth to admit that he “was afraid to be alone and take responsibility for myself.” This idea influences AJ’s actions for the rest of the episode as he floats between partners and generally avoids responsibility for the lives he affects. For instance, AJ and Landon reconnect and have sex, with Landon saying that there is love and connection here for AJ if he wants it. All he has to do is “stay,” but AJ nearly has an allergic reaction to this idea and leaves immediately.
That night, which happens to be Halloween night, AJ tries to spend some time alone but is crawling out of his skin. He receives an “emergency” text from a kind of frenemy, Fran (Nicholas Gorham), and goes to her apartment to check on her. Fran’s assistant, Cheyenne (Rad Pereira), shows up as well, but they get rebuffed by the irritated Fran. One trait of AJ’s that becomes clear through this episode is his relentless charm. He gets a ride home from Cheyenne on their bike. Somehow, this turns into them getting a drink and hanging out at a bowling alley/arcade. This entire sequence feels propelled forward by AJ’s palpable desire not to be alone, as well as Cheyenne being unavoidably charmed by this person.
Then, because this is High Maintenance, after all, they end up sharing some ketamine nasal spray (what?), which launches AJ on a hallucinogenic mind trip. This sequence is quite delightful, with appropriately loopy effects and AJ shrunk down to the size of the Chucky doll, his Halloween costume, for most of it. This is a fun diversion for the episode, but I appreciate these fun diversions. A show like this that, by its very premise, is open to all drug experiences should have sequences like this.
Once the night winds down, Cheyenne drops AJ off at home and, after a night of flirting, AJ and Cheyenne finally make out and presumably hook up that night. Either way, AJ wakes up alone. He makes himself quite a nice breakfast and takes it to the roof for a picturesque morning. This appears to show some personal growth. However, before AJ even begins to eat, he takes a selfie with the food and texts it to several friends with the caption “enjoying solo breakfast.” Even when A.J. is solo, he can’t help but reach out to others for the confirmation that he isn’t truly alone.
- This episode was written by Mel Shimkovitz and Ben Sinclair, and directed by Sinclair.
- The credits sequence is a loop of AJ’s hallucination, with an extra appearance by The Guy and Rocky’s creepy psychologist/demon-abetting puppet. The song is “The Pangean Anthem” by World Brain.
- We get a brief glimpse at perhaps the happiest High Maintenance couple: Becky and Colin, played by Katja Blichfeld and Dan Stevens. In this episode, we see their kid, who was but a tiny thing in their first webisode, “Rachel.” Ah, the passage of time!
- The Guy tells AJ to “enjoy some quality HBO programming, that’s what Sunday nights are for.” Last year, High Maintenance aired on Sundays.
- Rocky’s closet surprise might be second to the best closet surprise of all time, which takes place in Burn After Reading.
- Notable costumes of the episode: The Guy is the Dude from the Big Lebowski, while Fomo is John Goodman’s character from that movie. Colin and Becky are a gender-swapped Britney and Justin in full denim, while their kid is Eleven from Stranger Things (and not “Breakdown Britney”). We also see a man on the street dressed as the latest Joker. The nod to The Big Lebowski makes the bowling hallucination all the more apt.
- The various gender identities of the characters in this episode are not explicitly relevant to the story, but I did want to mention that this is probably one of the more queer-centric High Maintenance episodes, in that we get a naturally diverse array of gender identities, presentations, and sexualities.