In the episode, entitled “Soul Retrieval,” Peggy and her ex-husband get reacquainted with the good times and the bad times that so characterized their marriage. Plus, Peggy lands her first case — if she can remember to get around to it.
The wildly entertaining comedy procedural takes a beat from the main action this week and still proves fast on its feet.
High Desert recap: ‘Soul Retrieval’
Season 1, episode 5: Peggy Newman (played by Patricia Arquette) and her husband Denny (Matt Dillon) have snuck into their old house, which no longer belongs to them, and dug up a bunch of old silver coins he stashed there before he was arrested for selling large quantities of drugs. As they collect the last of them, the real owners of the house show up, so they flee in a hurry.
The coins, it turns out, aren’t worth much, which Peggy kicks herself for not having predicted. She tries to give it all to her boss, Bruce Harvey (Brad Garrett), at the P.I. firm, but he can’t accept it. He’s too moved by the gesture that she’d try to save his business from going under and being evicted. He rewards her with a real case: Peggy must determine if a woman is cheating on her husband.
First things first, though: Guru Bob (Rupert Friend) and his stolen art. Peggy gets Denny to impersonate an art buyer to feel out Guru Bob. Peggy’s been trying to figure out if the art in his house is real or not, or if it’s missing, as she suspects, which means a big payday for her if she can prove it.
Peggy has a plan
Peggy puts on a pair of glasses with a hidden microphone inside of them. But Denny, mostly out of an impulse to control the situation, says it’s a bad idea and suggests an alternative. He snaps the glasses open, retrieves the microphone from inside them, and puts it instead in the collar of the dog he just adopted after getting out of jail, Judy. No one ever thinks to pat down the dog, he reasons. She must admit it’s a good line of logic.
Peggy and Denny try to get Bob to give up his source of the stolen or forged art. But the best they can get out of him is an explanation for his turn away from being a local news anchor. He was rude to a production assistant (James Vincent), and a few minutes later that guy killed himself. The whole thing made Guru Bob realize how short life is — and what an asshole he’d been up until then.
Then he started going to therapy, doing hallucinogenic drugs, and telling the truth more often. That got him fired from his job at the news desk. And then his wife, Dona Gatchi (Tonya Glanz), got sick of Bob’s spiritual journey and walked out on him.
Peggy thought Bob killed Dona, but now she’s not so sure. She’s even less sure when she and Denny get back from the failed sting, and Judy throws up something up she swallowed while wandering around the grounds of Bob’s house: a finger with a big fake acrylic nail on the end of it. Maybe that’s a clue as to what happened to Dona …
Is this a tragedy?
I love that they got Matt Dillon to play Peggy’s dipshit husband on High Desert. Dillon — who’s been playing counterculture icons since he was about 14, and still carries the ruggedness of a lost dreamer, a would-be beat poet — does a magnificent dumb guy. And Denny’s just a great easy study for the old pro.
Just as Arquette’s Peggy moves from selfish to selfless at the drop of a dime to suit a situation, and keep herself moving before she sits too long and thinks about what she’s done (if indeed she’s still got that ability after so many years of lying to everyone to stay afloat), Denny moves from lovesick puppy dog (thus his immediately adopting a dog himself) to self-interested maniac at the drop of a hat.
He’s only too happy to help Peggy with her scheme because he thinks it’ll get him back in her good graces. But all it takes is a few minutes with Peggy and Bob to suspect they’re having some kind of a fling, and Denny stops acting like a professional and starts acting like a jilted little kid.
Incidentally, the scene of Bob and Peggy frisking each other is stupendously silly. Bob says he has to pat down Denny and Peggy. And Peggy, mocking upset but also feeling a little attracted to Bob, starts feeling him everywhere she can, so Bob then keeps trying to do the same to her. It looks like they’re performing some kind of ridiculous dance, and it’s a perfect encapsulation of High Desert’s sleepless energy. Another great episode.
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Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.