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High Maintenance S4E8: “Solo”

Photograph by David Russell/HBO

High Maintenance S4E8 “Solo” begins with a puppeteer named Rocky (James Edmund Godwin) showing The Guy what he’s working on. It’s pretty cool. I’m in for the dark, weird puppet show experience Rocky seems to want to put on offer. Then they hear a sneeze. It’s neither of them, so the reasonable thing to assume is that is a neighbor.

As things progress, we see Rocky putting a glass up against the wall occasionally in the midst of a montage where he makes some more weird and cool puppets. I dig the vibe of the whole thing. This is part of what High Maintenance gets up to on a regular basis—a New York character who does something strange, but where it is presented in a way that seems normal. This is Rocky’s life, with the puppet making and all, and it’s cool.

But then, ultimately, after he hears a sneeze and says “bless you,” he opens his closet to find one of the characters he has been acting. And this is never explained.

The Guy and Rocky, who is holding a puppet
Photograph by David Russell/HBO

High Maintenance S1E8 would seem to be a Halloween episode, although the timing of it doesn’t match up at all with it airing in March. Rocky is startled by this character he’s been playing in his puppet show (and is probably hallucinating I guess, since High Maintenance has never tended to have space for the supernatural), The Guy is dressed as The Dude from The Big Lebowski, and so on.

He delivers pot to Colin (Dan Stevens) and Becky (Katja Blichfeld), and it’s great to see these characters again. The last we saw them was in “HBD” and they have tended to feel a bit more like cameos than anything deeper for a while, but it’s always interesting how High Maintenance pulls past characters back into its story. Every episode is something different, but there is a continuity with The Guy, and that’s only bolstered by these quick appearances of people we have gotten to know a bit before.

Do You Even Like Me, or Do You Just Not Like Being Alone?

Most of High Maintenance S4E8 focuses on AJ (Becca Blackwell), who we have also met previously, in the Season 3 episode “Dongle” when The Guy and Lee (Britt Lower) attended a party in the Rockaways. AJ seemed to be at that party with Jules (Kate Lyn Sheil) but we learn in S4E8 that AJ is far from a monogamous sort of person.

Take for example the fact that they send the same text to multiple people (“Hey hunny wyd tonight?”) after telling Jean (Tasha Lawrence) they have a bunch of stuff to do. This would seem to have been a lie, since what AJ in fact does is hook up with Landon (Esco Jouley), buy some pot from The Guy, and end up having a night with Cheyenne (Rad Pereira). AJ implied to Jean that they had work to do, and none of this is work. It’s not even clear what AJ does for work.

I should note that I am using they pronouns because that would seem to be what Becca Blackwell prefers—I presume the same goes for the character of AJ. The same would seem to be the case for Rad Pereira so I will be referring to both AJ and Cheyenne in this way.

This is also one of the noteworthy things about AJ’s story: there is a lot of ambiguity around the gender of the various characters involved. But in its usual style, High Maintenance presents all of them without judgment or even commentary. This is life for these people. This is who they are. And while High Maintenance S4E8 clearly presents them in an accepting way, it also is never preachy about it.

This goes for AJ’s sexual behavior as well. They have—and clearly have had—many sexual partners. We’re shown three different ones here over the course of a single day, plus a masturbation scene. This speaks to sex addiction, but rather than get clinical about it I want to approach AJ with sympathy and (hopefully) understanding.

AJ asks The Dude…er…Guy if he gets lonely being single. And of course the answer is “yes” even if The Guy wants to think about it as solitude. He’s clearly better about this than AJ, though, who it seems can hardly tolerate being alone.

What’s interesting is that AJ seems to have a genuine connection to each of the partners they engage with in S4E8, whether it’s Jean or Landon or Cheyenne. But one of them isn’t enough. The first two want to be, but this does not seem to be in AJ’s nature. Were they monogamous with the unseen Christof? Is this all a matter of coping with the loss of that relationship?  I don’t think so.

AJ and Cheyenne are about to kiss

It seems to me that AJ really does love these various people, but is unable to settle on one. And there is something almost admirable about that if we think about AJ as overflowing with love to give. Think about when they tell Cheyenne they felt safe with them, and how that leads to their kiss and so on. AJ is not trying to deceive people and be promiscuous in some shallow way. The problem is that others, including Christof and Fran (Nicholas Gorham) I’m guessing, cannot be similarly open. Of course I can’t blame them.

Speaking of Fran, this is what kicks off AJ’s night with Cheyenne: they both get a text from Fran’s phone that is like an emergency alert that includes Fran’s location. Apparently there is a function on iPhones that caused this, as they discuss later, but regardless Fran is not happy to see them, telling Cheyenne that they’re fired after saying that they’d never send AJ a text.

Will Fran, who is probably drunk and on Ambien, remember firing Cheyenne in the morning? We don’t know, but regardless Cheyenne and AJ end up going bowling.

There are a few Big Lebowski references in High Maintenance S4E8. As I mentioned previously, The Guy dresses and The Dude for Halloween (which is pretty perfect), and now there is bowling. But not only that, after AJ takes a bit too much of Cheyenne’s ketamine, we get a scene that alludes directly to the film. But instead of being set to Kenny Rogers’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” it is set to Cos-Ber-Zam’s “Ne Noya (Daphni Mix).”

AJ goes down the alley on a sled as a baby

Nonetheless, the allusion is clear, and the scene that rolls during the credits of S1E8 puts a point on it. One could also argue that the scene that features the bartender Pete (Joe Passaro) alludes to the scenes in the film involving Sam Elliott, though the wisdom offered here is more about the efficacy of holes in the head.

Solo

While it is The Guy who dresses as The Dude in High Maintenance S4E8, and we could certainly draw some parallels there, I think it is more interesting to focus on parallels between him and AJ. Both characters have a way of seeming open to the world and the experiences it has to offer, and to interact with everyone—including strangers—in a very genuine way.

This gets to the appeal of each. What is it that makes AJ attractive enough to have all of these sexual partners? With apologies to Becca Blackwell, I don’t think it has to do with physical attributes. Rather, it is a quality of spirit.  It is the authenticity of their interactions in every circumstance. AJ abides.

It is not immediately clear why High Maintenance S4E8 is called “Solo” given that its thrust seems to be about how AJ cannot abide being alone. But perhaps this is the point in a reverse way. In a certain sense AJ is always alone—always waking up to find that Cheyenne has gone and making a solo breakfast because none of these relationships come to a depth for other people. They’d need something more monogamous, and more stable. Or if they wouldn’t perhaps what they are looking for is something shallower.

And even if AJ has a depth of emotion in each interaction, everything is fleeting. Never alone, but always lonely, they’re always eating breakfast solo.

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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