Apple TV+’s farcical neo-noir High Desert gets tied up this week as Peggy accidentally finds herself at the business end of some dangerous people’s guns. Guru Bob is kidnapped and tormented for his role in selling art forgeries to bad people, while Peggy’s quest to find Bob’s wife lands her in hot water with the Gatchi family.
The episode, entitled “A Nod Is Not a Hello,” is a raucous and funny time, even as the stakes climb higher by the minute
High Desert recap: ‘A Nod Is Not a Hello’
Season 1, episode 6: Guru Bob (played by Rupert Friend) is in trouble. He sold local crook Arman (Carlo Rota) a painting that turned out to be fake, so he and his daughter/muscle Heather (Julia Rickert) have been torturing Bob until he can pay back the money. First, they cut off one of his nipples. Then they beat him up at a diner. And now, Heather is crushing him under her bulk while Arman demands, for the third or fourth time, his money back.
Bob is under the impression that Peggy Newman (Patricia Arquette) represents a buyer who can purchase one of his bunk paintings for a million dollars, thus allowing Bob to pay Arman back. Of course, that’s not real. Peggy’s been trying to get information, and a confession, from Bob for the crimes she suspects/knows he’s committed.
The last time she came over — with her husband Denny (Matt Dillon) pretending to be a buyer — Denny’s dog ate a finger and threw it up later. Peggy shows it to her unwilling boss, Bruce Harvey (Brad Garrett), and insists it’s going to put their P.I. firm on the map. If they can prove Bob killed his ex-wife, Dona (Tonya Glanz), that’ll make their reputation.
Peggy’s trying to keep Bob at arm’s length, though, so she ignores two days of phone calls from him begging for help as Heather and Arman torment him in his home.
A finger and a Wild West show
Needing information, Peggy takes the fake fingernail from the disembodied finger to a nail artist she knows (Tracy Vilar) to get confirmation that it did, indeed, belong to Dona. Then she walks a door down to the massage parlor owned by Dona’s family. She asks her brother Nick Gatchi (Carmine Giovinazzo) if he’s willing to go on the record about what he thinks happened to Dona, under the guise of their being a book deal in the offing. He agrees tentatively, but he also suspects Peggy might be full of shit.
Back at the Pioneer Town Wild West show where Peggy still technically works, the play she’s writing and rehearsing is getting out of hand. She told the proprietor Owen (Eric Petersen) that she’s going to save the flagging attendance, but the show is in no shape to go on by Friday, which is when he needs it to.
Peggy’s lead, Ginger (Bernadette Peters), keeps changing her lines. Ginger looks exactly like Peggy’s mom, so every conversation they have about the play makes Peggy emotional.
Surely some more lies will fix this situation
To clear her head, she finally goes back over to Bob’s house, where Arman and Heather threaten to kill her unless she can get them some of the money Bob owes them.
Peggy lies again about knowing an art collector (the same one she lied to Bob about knowing), and they say they can get Arman his money soon. Just as she’s squaring away her lies, the nail tech who helped identify Dona’s nail walks over to the Gatchi’s brothel and tells them Peggy’s been snooping around for answers.
That’s when Nick realizes one of the forged paintings in his establishment has been stolen off the walls. So now there are two parties deeply interested in tracking down Peggy and getting some answers and some money.
Find me this Sylvia Plath or don’t come back
High Desert walks a tightrope re: the anxiety generated by the show’s central drama. Peggy’s combination of drug-fueled absent-mindedness and for-show forgetfulness are (not to be dramatic) triggering for people who have had to rely on a certain kind of lovably selfish individual.
She finds a half-dozen reasons, real and imaginary, not to take Bob’s panicked phone calls. (That ought to ring true for anyone who has a friend they want desperately to rely on but know they can’t.)
Peggy Newman makes an interesting kind of protagonist because she self-actualizes solutions to all of her many problems, a lot of them self-created, all the while creating new ones in her wake. And yet for the show to be so stressful minute to minute, without losing any of its humor or buoyancy as drama, is no little thing.
A lot of this comes from good writing and tight editing. But a lot of it also flows from Patricia Arquette’s magnificent performance as Peggy. Whatever magic this team is working, I hope they keep it up.
Watch High Desert on Apple TV+
New episodes of High Desert arrive Wednesdays on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
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.