High Desert Episode 4 Recap-Lionel Richie, Hidden Silver and A Missing Wife
High Desert episode 4 brings us lots of new pieces of the puzzle. We learn some key elements of Peggy’s childhood and her life with her husband Denny. We get to learn more about the central missing persons’ case, and the show has its most emotional moment yet. Arquette continues to be the glue holding together the comedy and drama, making the mix of genre and tones feel seamless. One minute I am laughing at a naughty parrot, and the next minute I am sobbing about a woman grieving her childhood. Although I am nowhere near solving the mystery, I am a bit closer to learning about our lead character and how she ended up in this situation.
The episode opens with the sound of The Bangles in 1986. It’s a perfect suburban neighborhood with picket fences and manicured lawns. An attractive young woman waits in a car as a man walks out of the home to greet her, leaving another young woman and two children standing in the doorway. Behind them stands Roslyn (Bernadette Peters), who seems more resigned to the situation.
Teenage Peggy (Harlow Jane with hair very reminiscent of Patricia Arquette in True Romance) is less accepting that her father is leaving home and her two younger siblings behind. It’s interesting that she was once the protective sibling when now they seem to be looking out more for their big sister. Peggy starts to throw her father’s belongings across the lawn in anger. “I’m never getting married,” a young Peggy cries. She may have wished she had remembered this statement as an adult.
Denny Is Back In Peggy’s Life
Back to the current day, we re-join the events at the end of the third episode. Peggy’s felon husband, Denny (Matt Dillon), is standing in her kitchen in her mother’s kimono. In a quick conversation, we learn more about him and understand how Peggy managed to get into her current situation.
Denny was first arrested 12 years ago (in the drug bust we see in the opening scene of the first episode) and has been back inside twice since. He seems to believe he took the fall for her, and you get the feeling she was more involved in his downfall than she wants to admit. She wants him out of her life and her mother’s clothing. “You’re a detriment to my life,” she claims. Although you can see their sexual tension, she still claims she wants a divorce.
She tells him that she can’t leave her new life to go back to him. She is “indispensable” to PI Bruce; this isn’t a lie because Peggy actually believes this. When Denny starts to patronize Peggy and call her “baby,” you can almost see the smoke come out of her ears. This chaos is a nice contrast to her and Guru Bob, making business chat over a high-end meal the episode prior.
Denny is also a whirlwind of ideas. He is a “phoenix,” waiting to be reborn, and despite Peggy’s skeptical look, the pair aren’t so different. Denny wants to open a qigong studio, creating a new hybrid of the martial art that teaches a “healing way to do battle” because it’s what “John Lennon died for.” While the scene does little for the plot and gets repetitive, it perfectly displays the dynamic of the pair.
He spends a lot of time talking about being a changed man and the new page he wants to turn over. Of course, Peggy soon learns that he hasn’t come into her life because he is a changed man. He has silver hidden in a local roadhouse, and he wants Peggy’s help. Denny had previously told her that the silver was gone and that he used it to pay his legal fees. All the time she has spent working menial jobs and struggling to pay the mortgage, her husband had been hiding a small fortune.
Peggy considers helping him regain the silver but quickly realizes that it would soon lead to a life of crime. Dillion and Arquette wonderfully play off each other, and you can really see the chaos these two characters would have had married to each other.
Where Is Guru Bob’s Wife?
Back in Bruce’s PI office, she has her teeth into the hunt for “that Guru Bastard.” She is desperate to know if Guru Bob killed his wife but not desperate for the reward her family offered. This is by far the most intriguing plot point being presented in High Desert. It’s a shame Peggy and the show get sidetracked so frequently.
Peggy gets a video call from Tammy. She is over Guru Bob, except she is desperate to know how much her ex misses her. We also get a quick confirmation that Bob paid for the money Tammy stole from her employee for breast augmentation and resolved that situation. Despite it being a major plot in previous episodes, the missing money storyline and her boss’ arrest appear to have come and gone a little too quickly.
Peggy is certain she is close to finding out some truth about Bob’s missing wife, but Bruce doesn’t have any interest in taking on the case. She explains to Bruce that this case is the PI equivalent of signing The Beatles, but he is not convinced. We learn that Bruce desperately needs the money (and an IT expert), to the point that his agency is close to shutting down.
Peggy has to go for a drug test to get another dose of methadone. She is bladder shy and argues with the nurse who has to watch her to ensure it’s authentic. She is being limited to daily prescriptions, fighting a losing battle to get a weekly dose. A random young man walks into the bathroom because she is taking too long and immediately gets hired as Bruce’s new IT guy. This whole sequence feels like a red herring. You’re expecting Peggy to fake her drug sample, or perhaps fail it, but instead, it’s used as a way to hire a new IT guy. Aside from the opening episode, High Desert has yet to explore Peggy’s substance abuse, which must have been bad if she is now on a methadone program.
Peggy arrives at Carol’s house holding a drone. It may belong to Carole’s teenage tearaway stepdaughter, or Peggy may be being spied on. Let’s hope this gets explained later, as I am desperate to know more about the mysterious Carole and the difficult stepdaughter. Peggy explains her theory that Bob drove his missing wife’s car to Mexico and made it look like she went on her own accord. Carole also has a revelation, Bob’s missing wife, Donatella, is part of the Gattchi mafia family who now uses tanning spas as a front for their business.
Peggy immediately heads to the tanning spa and asks for Nick, Donatella’s brother, who put up the reward for her discovery. The tanning spa is clearly a front for something else, as the orgasmic wails in the background indicate. Nothing is ever directly said out loud but is hinted at enough for you to know what is going on. High Desert doesn’t ever treat its viewers like they are idiots; they expect you to be in on the joke.
She tells Nick that she wants to speak to him because she is writing a book about her missing brother, Frank. They share such a similar backstory, and she figured they should compare notes on losing a sibling. He’s not sure, but she convinces him to give her time because “they are both victims, and victims get cheques.” He is a little bit too open to talk about his sister, considering he is presented as some crime boss. Would Peggy be able to just walk in and talk to the boss?
Using the fake name Sylvia Plath, she starts to interrogate him about his missing sister’s whereabouts. Nick doesn’t believe Bob was involved in her disappearance. He is just a “granola-eating fruitcake.” He believes his sister hated her husband, took his money, and left the country. He explains that she became isolated from the business-minded family and chose to go to art school instead. Arquette really shines in scenes like this, where she can be as brash and aggressive as she wants. Although she plays Peggy as a larger-than-life character, she never feels clownish or unrealistic.
Nick convinces Peggy (sorry, Sylvia Plath) to try tanning. In the tanning booth, she sees a painting that looks exactly like a Magritte. Donatella was a talented artist who could skilfully mimic famous painters. It now all makes sense how Guru Bob could have so many high-profile paintings in his house. It is all slowly and smartly coming together, never giving too much away too quickly.
Peggy is still not sure she believes Nick’s story about leaving her family and disappearing to a new life in Mexico. Peggy is sure a hilariously vocal parrot called Lionel Richie, which was left behind by Donatella, is key to her disappearance. Like any good whodunnit, High Desert is slowly laying out suspects, motives, and red herrings. Let’s hope it maintains this pacing in future episodes.
Peggy’s Reconciliation With Her Sister
The middle of this episode gets concerned with plots that appear to have no point. At least three conversations could be removed without any impact on any of the storylines. Carole and Peggy have a conversation about the love Peggy has for her sister Dianne. Peggy knows her sister gets pressured by their brother Stewart, which has put a wall between them. Peggy seems to be the type to move on quickly and not hold onto things, but it’s clear there is a lot of resentment towards her family and how they disregard her.
For the first time in High Desert episode 4, we go back to the frontier world and catch up with Ginger (her mother’s doppelganger, also played by Bernadette Peters, who is having a lot of fun as the eccentric actress). Peggy asks Ginger if she could play an authentic art dealer. Ginger explains that she played one in The Thomas Crown Affair before “Rene Russo became jealous” and cut her one line. Some of the best lines in this show are the throwaway comments like this. If you look away for a second, you could miss a gem.
She calls up her sister and bribes her to come to her workplace, hilariously threatening to release teenage writing. Dianne (Christine Taylor) turns up to see Peggy and is convinced to do a scene with their “fake mommy,” Ginger. Amongst all the chaos and silliness, this scene is heartfelt and touching. Ginger plays their dying mother, while Dianne recounts a story of getting ice cream with her mother and feeling like she was all hers for the day.
She also explains how their mother changed after their father left, almost becoming a ghost long before her death. It’s beautiful writing, beautifully delivered by an understated Taylor. Ginger ruins the catharsis by adlibbing that Dianne sounds selfish and clingy. Although High Desert prides itself on being zany and out there, the underlying grief in these characters really grounds them in reality. The story of a little girl desperately wanting to be seen by her mouth is a gut punch, especially as it comes moments after we meet a vulgar parrot in a brothel.
Ginger later goes with Peggy to Guru Bob’s house and pretends to be Peggy’s art contact. She offers him 900k for the Cezanne he is selling; Bob wants 1.3 million. After the beauty of the previous scene, it’s a bit jolting to go back to the silliness of Guru Bob’s art scam. Ginger is truly a terrible actress, and Peters is having the most fun pushing his eccentricities to the limits.
It looks like Bruce’s business really is in trouble. Peggy suddenly realizes that her PI career may be over before it started. Time for Plan B. The talented Brad Garrett has been criminally sidelined in the opening four episodes. Let’s hope it’s not over for Bruce, and the actor gets material worth his skills.
We end the episode in a hotel room with Denny and a dog called Judy. Peggy says she will help Denny get the silver back, but she wants a 60% cut and for him to help her find Bob’s wife. This end scene neatly ties together the themes of the episode. Peggy is torn between wanting to turn a new leaf and going back to her old ways with Denny. I genuinely don’t know which way she will choose, but I am intrigued to watch her battle herself and the world to get there. Find all our High Desert coverage here.
Amelia Harvey is a freelance film and TV reviewer and entertainment journalist. I was raised on Elvis musicals and share a love for all things camp and extravagant. You can find me musing over dark indie cinema, singing along with musicals and getting a little bit too excited at action blockbusters.