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High Maintenance S4E9: “Soup”

Photograph by David Russell/HBO

High Maintenance S4E9 “Soup” occurs during a Christmastime blizzard in New York City that causes all flights to be canceled. This is not a real event so far as I can remember (I live in Brooklyn) or find doing a quick search (in case my memory is faulty)—at least not in terms of the timing, But things like this certainly do happen, so I’m not quibbling with High Maintenance so much as letting you know that the show does not seem to be referencing a real event in NYC history. And that’s fine. This isn’t Mad Men, after all.

The cancellations mean that a number of flight attendants are stranded in the city, so High Maintenance S4E9 spends a decent amount of time giving us a glimpse into what it is like at their crash pad. Once again, this is outside of the kind of experience most of us tend to have but is to a large degree normal for the people involved—though this is extreme in terms of how crowded the place is, and noteworthy because it is Christmas Eve.

Pam-Anne (Heather Simms) serves as our entry point here, as she has tagged along to the crash pad with her sister Destiny (MaYaa Boateng). They just want to go scuba diving, er..snorkeling, but this is where they find themselves. It’s clear that Destiny has stayed there before, but she’s never been interested in making friends—and she isn’t this time, either. This is just a place to crash when she is laid over in NYC. She actually seems a little annoyed at Pam’s desire to treat this like a party. But, also, it’s Christmas.

Pam hanging out with flight attendants
Photograph by David Russell/HBO

Perhaps Destiny would have been a bit more likely to get friendly with the group if it weren’t for the fact that one of their early conversations is about how Global Warming will wreck the planet within 20 or 30 years, and how it doesn’t make sense to have children in light of that.

Destiny has just discovered that she is pregnant, you see, but she hasn’t told anyone yet. She tells her sister by the end of High Maintenance S4E9, and Pam is happy for her, but it seems clear to me that Destiny actually is worried about what kind of world she is bringing a child into. It’s not just that she finds the comments the others made earlier to be insensitive—it’s that she connects to where they are coming from.

For what it’s worth, I’m on team No Kids here. There may have been a time when I thought that having kids was something of a responsibility, like we need to make sure to repopulate the good guys, but it’s become increasingly hard to have hope for the world. I would never judge anyone for having a child, but also please don’t judge those of us who have decided not to, for whatever reason.

We’re Not Broken and We Don’t Need to Be Fixed

The other main story in High Maintenance S4E9 centers on The Guy and his niece Ilana (Rachel Kaly). We’ve met her sister, Kate (Kate Ross), previously, going back to the web series episode “Matilda,” but this is the first we’ve seen of Ilana. (N.B. Kate Ross is the actual niece of Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld, as they discuss in the intro to that web series episode.)

It is interesting to learn more about The Guy’s personal life, though I always feel a certain tension when High Maintenance goes in this direction. There is something about him being simply “The Guy” that feels so apropos, because a weed guy is someone you let into your home and have a certain level of intimacy with, perhaps—you’re engaged together in this illicit deal, after all—but not really someone you know. Of course, that’s always been a fine line on High Maintenance, as The Guy is friendly with clients to the point of maybe actually being friends with some of them. But if you’re only seeing someone to do a weed deal, you aren’t really friends.

So when High Maintenance takes us outside of all of that into other areas of The Guy’s life there is always something of a question to me as to how much we really want to know about him. I feel like there is a risk of making this show too much about him instead of him being our entry point into other stories.

That said, I enjoyed what occurred in “Soup” a lot. He and Ilana are supposed to travel to Phoenix to visit their family for the holidays, but their flight gets canceled. She lives in New York, attending Barnard, but The Guy convinces her to come back to his place in Brooklyn while they sort things out, and they do Hanukkah stuff together. It’s sweet.

Ilana lights a candle as she sits at a table with The Guy
Photograph by David Russell/HBO

There is a certain tension in their relationship, particularly at the beginning. What becomes clear, though, is that a lot of this stems from the influence of their family, and perhaps The Guy’s brother Lewis (her dad) in particular. Apparently he is the kind of guy who will narc on someone about a joint at a Tom Petty concert. And he tracks Ilana’s phone, calling his brother to wonder why they are in Brooklyn Heights. They’re at dinner, but he’s worried that The Guy is taking her out with him on weed deals. As Ilana puts it, he (and apparently the Mann family writ large) is “very judgy.”

We don’t really get details about whatever the deal was with Uncle Jonah, but The Guy and Ilana ultimately bond over the way their family treats them like there is something wrong with them. The Guy lied to them for years, saying he worked for Vimeo, and it’s clear that Ilana too feels like to reveal her true self to her family is just to open herself up to negative judgment.

She’s pretty sure she’s not alright, and overall has what is probably a reasonable view about her mental health. Yet there is clearly a power to it when The Guy says:

All of the people that our family thought was weird, or, like, f*cked up, are just kind of normal people, and they just don’t match with our family’s version of normal.

[…]

I really like what’s going on. Until I tell anything about my actual life to those people, and then I’m made to feel like I’m not fine, and I’m told that I’m not fine.

[…]

There’s nothing wrong with us. We’re not broken, and we don’t need to be fixed. We’re all just trying to maintain, and we each got our own way of doin’ it.

I feel like this is almost the thesis statement of High Maintenance. It’s not just some shallow version of “I’m OK, you’re OK”—a deeper thought that it is OK to not be OK is wrapped in there as well. We’re all just trying to maintain, and we do it in various ways. Some might seem odd, or weird, but whatever.

So ultimately The Guy decides not to visit his family. He doesn’t want to, and perhaps breaking free from them is good for him. We can feel obligated in such situations, and I am not saying we shouldn’t feel that way at all ever, but when the relationship is toxic—as that between The Guy and his brother Lewis seems to be—we make a mistake when we let some notion of familial obligation win out over what’s good for us.

Ilana, however, heads off to Phoenix with Fomo in tow. The Guy texted Gene to see about getting her registered as an emotional support dog, and apparently he did, in fact, take care of it. (I’m not sure what The Guy thought of his new painting of Fomo…I thought it was better?)

I thought all of this was really touching—how The Guy recognizes the way his niece is bonding with his dog, and his moves to get her to able to take Fomo along. I don’t know what I think about the whole emotional support animal thing in general (because your animal might cause me anxiety, basically), but this turn was all really sweet in High Maintenance S4E9.

And so, Ilana is off to go back home, while The Guy says he is going to head to New Zealand. Is he really going to catch the next flight to Auckland, or is he just heading back to Brooklyn? “Soup” doesn’t tell us, and I’m not quite sure why I think it might be the latter. Perhaps it’s because of the comment The Guy makes towards the beginning of S4E9 about not really wanting to fly, or perhaps it’s because it’s what I would probably do.

Soup

The Guy is on the phone at a restaurant in High Maintenance "Soup"
Photograph by David Russell/HBO

The most obvious reference point for the title of this episode being “Soup” is in the scene where The Guy and Ilana eat soup at a restaurant in Brooklyn Heights. He thinks it is exceptionally good soup, while she is less impressed. The other main reference point is in the flight attendant storyline, when Pam breaks into the room of the owner of the apartment and there are cans of soup on the table.

But these references are literal. Thematically speaking, why is High Maintenance S4E9 called “Soup”? A couple of things occur to me along these lines, though I have little idea as to whether Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair had them in mind as they were making this episode.

One is the way that my grandmother would say “it’s soup” when dinner was ready. I don’t know how pervasive that is, or was, but to be clear, it didn’t matter what the food was—“it’s soup” meant that the thing is done: come and get it. And I could see how we might take S4E9 as being about certain things coming to fruition: The Guy’s position vis-à-vis his family, Ilana’s acceptance of herself, Destiny coming to terms with being pregnant…but then, maybe this is just a weird old idiom that has nothing to do with it.

There is also the soup of that snow falling in NYC. It’s going to melt and turn into that disgusting slush we’re familiar with. The city will become a certain kind of soup bowl, filled with the most indelectable brown stuff you can imagine at every street corner. But that’s probably not it, either.

Soup is something that can’t be unmade, and while I suppose it is hardly alone in that, it is somewhat exemplary. You put these ingredients together, and they blend. They form a product, and that product can’t be undone.

And neither can the influence that family has had on The Guy and Ilana. They can move forward, but they can’t undo the past, or take apart the ingredients that have formed them. This is who they are. It’s soup. And that’s not to say that they can’t change. You can always add more spice, or salt, or whatever, or pour that soup over rice and put some sriracha on that sh*t, but you can’t unmake the soup.

And I feel like this is where we are left at the end of High Maintenance S4E9: with Ilana and The Guy moving forward. I don’t know where either is going, but each seems to have grown through their connection to the other.

So “Soup” feels like a fitting end to High Maintenance Season 4. Will the show continue? I hope so. But in the meantime:

Bye, Uncle Rufus.

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.

2 Comments

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  1. Leaving for New Zealand from New York at Christmas would haven been a great move. New Zealand has had 1500 ish cases of covid and 22 deaths and no active community cases.. New York on the oth hand….

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