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High Desert Episode 5- A Taco Truck Disaster and A Dog’s Discovery

High Desert Episode 5 feels like we are finally getting answers to some of the show’s big questions. Thanks to a seamless flashback and a well-thought-out addition of a dog called Judy, we finally get a step closer to understanding what happened to Guru Bob’s missing wife, Donatella. Whilst the first half of this fifth episode is too focused on B-plots, the last act opens up the mystery to a new level. In true whodunnit style, High Desert has mastered the slow set-up, introducing elements that will later be used for plot purposes. I am completely engrossed with the disappearance of Donatella and am rooting for Peggy to be the person to solve it.

Episode 5 opens with Denny and Peggy digging for silver in some utility room. This is the silver Denny told his wife Peggy was lost when he went to jail. Knowing this fortune was hidden by someone’s washer could have fixed a lot of Peggy’s issues. Despite having their huge mansion in Episode 1, which I presumed was because they were such prolific drug deals, the pair look pretty amateur trying to regain their silver. I was expecting a little bit more backstory as the couple tries to physically carry coins out of a stranger’s home, dropping as many as they find. Denny and Peggy kiss as they escape with the coins. She’s still in love with him but is too stubborn to admit it.

When the pair try to pawn the silver, it turns out Denny’s 25k is actually only worth 5k. He blames her for dropping the coins, but it’s probably more because the silver is mostly nickel. There are those dynamics, and now we can see why Denny ended up in jail, and Peggy struggled to pay the mortgage.

High Desert Episode 5
Courtesy of Apple TV +

Bruce is worried about the financial state of his PI business. Peggy doesn’t mind if Bruce doesn’t pay her, but she is concerned that her future is being ripped from her. She had pinned her hopes on his agency, seeing it as the only way she could escape her current situation. She gives Bruce a wad of her new earnings, as painful as it is to part with it. The scene where Peggy visibly struggles to hand over the cash is hilarious until it becomes forced in its length. Although Patricia Arquette’s physical comedy is excellent, this scene wears thin quickly. Only so many funny faces I want to see a grown woman make consecutively. Bruce breaks down in tears. The only way he will feel comfortable with taking the money is if it’s a loan.

Now back to High Desert’s A-plot. Peggy thinks she is close to finding out where Guru Bob’s missing wife is. Bruce has an actual case of a cheating spouse to deal with. Peggy hilariously tells him that she doesn’t feel comfortable interfering with someone’s personal life. Then she sees the photos, makes a snap judgment on the woman’s sartorial choices, and decides she is comfortable getting involved. She gives the case to Carol and puts it out of her mind (and the episode)

Carol doesn’t think Peggy should be back with Denny. Carol essentially acts like a soundboard for Peggy’s life, helping the audience better understand what Peggy is feeling. We finally meet Carol’s teenage stepdaughter, who currently feels like an underwritten teenage cliché. She is stroppy, temperamental, and uninterested in her surroundings. Let’s hope she fits into the story later. Peggy gives the teenager some tough love, which is perhaps a glimpse into her own mothering skills (her estranged son has not been mentioned since the opening episode). She tells Cooper she is bored because she is “making it boring.” You get the feeling Peggy could never make anything boring.

A Visit To Guru Bob Leads To A Discovery

Peggy picks up Denny and his dog Judy in her new little dune buggy, which has yet to stop being funny. Aggressive and stubborn Peggy, driving in what looks like a toy for children. They are both dressed to the nines, obviously on their way to impress someone and probably do something illegal. Peggy is wearing a fake pair of glasses to appear smarter, which Denny soon breaks. “Why do you break everything,” Peggy says, apparently about the glasses, but most certainly not about the glasses.

They put a spy camera on Judy, believing dogs can’t be bugged. Throughout the show, the lead characters show concern about being bugged, whether it’s via the drone or via the dog’s camera being hacked. Perhaps their home being bugged was what led to Denny’s initial arrest. I suspect something else is coming soon about bugging and being followed by the government.

High Desert is shot beautifully. Making the most of its arid desert backdrop, there are some stunning shots of snakes and cactuses as Peggy speeds around California in her buggy. When Peggy starts putting on lipstick, Denny gets suspicious that Peggy is about to visit someone she is trying to impress. It’s at no fault to Matt Dillon, but Denny feels like one of the weaker characters in the show. He is just the least interesting thing about Peggy.

We arrive at Guru Bob’s house. Denny is the latest art dealer Peggy is trying to bring around. Denny is starting to get a bit suspicious and wants to pat Denny down before he enters. He finds nothing on the ex-con, so he starts to pat Peggy down. Peggy gets in there first and tries to pat Bob down at the same time. What follows is a series of very inappropriate and unsexy patting down from the pair. These absurd scenes in High Desert work because they are played entirely straight by the actors. Despite it looking like one of the unsexist mating dances on the planet, Denny is jealous.

Denny becomes the third character to inspect Bob’s art and barter with the guru over the price. It’s getting a little bit repetitive at this point, you know exactly what is going to happen now. The business talk between Denny and Bob feels flat in both writing and performance. It’s clear the writers have dumbed the dialogue so the audience can keep up. It is also pretty obvious no one would believe Denny was a professional.

Denny tells Bob the painting is great but clearly fake. Bob boldly claims the paintings are stolen, not fake. Peggy reassures him that they can still help him make money from the fakes. They are so impressed with the fakes, they want to know the artist. They try to convince him to ‘fess up by promising him that the art of a dead artist will make more money than one painted by a live one.

Despite being played upbeat, there is genuine tension in waiting for Bob to confess his wife was a forger. Denny is suspicious of Judy, not helped by Peggy’s obviousness of wanting Guru Bob to talk about Donatella near the animal. Bob sounds confident when he tells them his wife left him, she is not dead. Whilst Bob is seriously talking about art, Peggy is whistling and trying to get Judy’s attention. Arquette once again showcases her effortless skill for physical comedy.

The flashback scene, dating 18 months prior, is the highlight of the uneven episode. We finally learn what happened to Denny the day he started ranting on television and became the apparently enlightened man we see today. He’s in the newsroom offices with slicked-back hair and a well-tailored suit. He’s in a bad mood, shouting at staff in the hallway. He explains to Peggy and Denny that his life changed when he went to the taco truck outside his office. Bob is busy shouting at a pregnant woman for cutting the queue when one of his employees jumps off the building and lands on the taco truck. He believes this is what led to his “existential tailspin” and his on-air breakdown.

This High Desert episode 5 scene is shocking and totally unexpected. Guru Bob appears in episode one as this ridiculous parody of influencers and unqualified health experts, but this flashback adds layers to both the character and Rupert Friend’s portrayal. This is the first flashback we see to someone outside of Peggy’ and is much more impactful than simply being told what happened.

His wife, Donna, doesn’t care about him. We finally meet Donna, who has previously been portrayed as this angelic missing wife, as this callous and selfish artist who has little interest in her husband’s guilt. It’s her ultimatum of going back to work or seeing a shrink, which really changes his life. He sees a specialist psychiatrist, who gives his hallucinogens to deal with his trauma. High in a tepee in the desert, that slimy newsreader is gone, and instead, we meet the Guru Bob we now know. By the time he gets back to the newsroom, he has been enlightened and realizes his old life was pointless. He goes on a tirade live on-air, questioning the meaning of life.

Bob celebrates getting fired and now believes he can do something with meaning. The hobo life we get shown him living doesn’t look very meaningful. He explains he spent six months living like a nomad, believing his on-air epiphany changed the way of others. It’s hard to tell what is genuine or a delusion from the drug-induced man. Everything is shot in an anxiety-inducing slow motion. Including when he discovers his wife left him, leaving him with nothing but a goodbye note and an empty closet. Bob is a fascinatingly layered character, played with a mix of smarm and naivety by Friend.

His wife was “a prisoner of a two-dimensional perspective,” Bob explains. It’s looking less like he killed her and that the couple had grown apart. I actually started to believe that Donatella had simply left Bob and his existential nonsense. With three episodes left, perhaps this was never the real case for Peggy to investigate. Denny connects with Bob, and understands how it feels to be without a sympathetic partner. For a second, it looks like the two men have connected on an emotional level. It just turns out Denny sees an investment opportunity from the Guru. It’s concerning that the emotional connection he has built with Peggy may merely be a business arrangement for Denny.

Judy, in the background, becomes very concerned with something she has found in Bob’s backyard. They call her back inside, noticing she has swallowed something and now appears agitated. The not-so-subtle camera work lets audiences know Judy has made A Big Discovery that will be important later. I was waiting for this to be a callback for the next episode. In fact, minutes later, we see Judy coughing up a human finger in a motel parking lot. Peggy might just have been proven right about Donatella, and I definitely have a reason to click on the next episode. Find all our High Desert coverage here.