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High Maintenance S4E2: “Trick”

Photo credit: David Russell / HBO

High Maintenance S4E2 “Trick” continues what I think is a strong fourth season so far for the show. “Cycles” explored relationship dynamics pertaining to things like breaking up and getting back together. “Trick,” on the other hand, explores difficulties in the coordinating of relationships.

First we meet Matthew (Calvin Leon Smith), who has a “shoes-off” household. The Guy delivers him weed to start the episode, and his new dog, Fomo, does a bad thing by soiling a rug in Matthew’s apartment. It’s nice that The Guy gives him some of his money back because of this, and Matthew does not freak out, but this is the first time since Fomo was introduced in S4E1 that I thought, “Bad dog!”

Matthew is getting ready for a date with an escort named Travis (Jay Jurden). He’s also a nice guy, and they are of similar age. In fact, he seems a little weirded out that his client for the evening is another black man in his mid-30s, as opposed to some old white dude with a wife or something like that.

How does one coordinate this relationship? The escort is a paid companion, but he and Matthew seem to connect a bit on a human level. Rather than making things easier, though, it makes them to some degree harder.

The Guy and Fomo arrive at Matthew's apartment
Photo credit: David Russell / HBO

I’m told that sex workers often have a rule against kissing, and perhaps this gets to why. It’s an intimate thing. Perhaps it is easier to treat the whole exchange with more of a degree of detachment.

Matthew and Travis get there, however, even if there is some awkwardness to the moment when Matthew asks to be held (with both arms). And there is no rule against kissing here. What it is, instead, is a matter of the two navigating the situation and figuring out how to make it work.

Because Matthew isn’t just looking for sex; he’s looking for something to assuage his loneliness. It’s “fake”—at least to some degree— but he’s after something that feels real. And how do you do that? How do you “pretend” in a way that works? And to what degree does it end up being pretending?

Travis, it seems, gives Matthew at least some of his money back. I don’t know what percentage, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be all of it. It was an envelope of cash at the beginning, and a couple of bills at the end. And so as The Guy gave Matthew some money back as his dog soiled his rug, the escort gives him some back for the blowjob (and/or otherwise enjoyable sexual experience that we do not see).

How do we take this? How does Matthew take this? We at least seem to get an answer to the latter, as he smiles.

Intimacy Must Be Coordinated

Kym (Abigail Bengson) is an Intimacy Coordinator for film and, presumably, television. She handles the details of the sex scenes, but also other things like breastfeeding and birth. One day on set, she meets Evan (Avery Monson), and they hit it off. She tells him about what she does and that if someone doesn’t feel comfortable with whatever it is they are being asked to do, they’ll figure out another way to tell the story.

So this is a woman who is concerned with whether people feel comfortable with what they are being asked to do, and I can only hope that such individuals are deployed across the industry and—at least at this point—given the kind of power that Kym seems to have, to say, “No” to those things that an actor might find to be a bridge too far.

Kym coordinates intimacy on set
Photo credit: David Russell / HBO

But, who knows. Even High Maintenance S4E2 complicates this a little bit, as we see Kym talking to clients who agree but may well feel a bit pressured into the whole thing.

Is she oblivious to that? Does she push it aside to be able to sleep at night? Am I reading too much into a couple of small moments? I don’t know.

What does seem clear is that Kym is sensitive to people’s boundaries. And so, when she goes on a date with Evan and they seem to be hitting it off, it throws a certain wrench in things when he tells her he is asexual.

She gets it, though, and that is what makes the whole thing as interesting as it is.

I remember the first time I learned about the idea of being asexual. I was giving a talk at a conference maybe ten years ago, and the guy before me was offering an asexual perspective on the Twilight books. I hadn’t encountered this as a human possibility before—the possibility of just not experiencing sexual attraction—and I’ll admit I chafed a bit. I recall I mentioned it to a friend, and he said, “You don’t get off that easy.” Is there something like a pun in there? Maybe, but there is also an expression of an unfortunate insensitivity.

The fact is that asexuality is indeed a thing, whatever its aetiology. And at the end of the day, I don’t see any reason not to respect it. Perhaps it seems odd to some of us, but there are indeed people who are asexual. Moreover, it doesn’t seem to be easy at all, as asexuality does not entail a lack of desire for human connection.

This is not a group that has gotten a lot of representation on TV. BoJack Horseman deserves credit for bringing this out through its characterization of Todd (Aaron Paul) as asexual, but I struggle to think of other examples that precede what we see here in High Maintenance S4E2. Even in the previous times that Evan has appeared on High Maintenance (most prominently in “Genghis”), his asexuality has felt like something that was more noted than explored. “Trick” brings it to the fore.

Because here’s the thing: Kym and Evan really like each other. They not only say so; it’s apparent. Evan may be asexual, but he is not aromantic, and Kym understands these terms. She wants to be respectful of his boundaries.

But how do you coordinate intimacy when one party maybe doesn’t even want to be touched?

At the end of the day, it seems like Kym would maybe be OK with a relationship without sex, but one without hugging? One without hand-holding?

There is power to touch, and if Evan is at such an extreme end of the spectrum that he can’t do that…well, how can I be in a relationship with someone who can’t hold me?

Kym asks him that as they wait to be served by the escort Matthew was with earlier. There is a moment, and then Evan takes her hand. He kisses her on the wrist and says he’s never done that before. He wants to connect with her even if it means moving outside of his comfort zone.

But how does one do this? Even if Evan is willing to hold hands, even if he is willing to hug, even if he was ultimately willing to do things of a sexual nature, how could you deal with the fact that he doesn’t really want to?

Or does he maybe want to hold Kym’s hand, for the same reason that everyone does—to show he cares?

I don’t know, and I don’t know enough about asexuality to feel comfortable speculating further about his behavior, but there is certainly a question here about how to coordinate that intimacy.

Trick

What is the trick? It is the relation between Matthew and Travis. It is Evan’s magic trick. But more than anything, it is the trick of trying to coordinate these relationships. It’s a trick some of us sometimes, somehow, manage to pull off—to be together, and for it to work between us. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Caemeron Crain

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain studies philosophy and is a writer and head of the TV department at 25YL. He is a party to a Twin Peaks podcast that then did a few episodes on Surrealism before entering an indefinite hiatus. He also has a cat.

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