The second episode of High Fidelity, appropriately titled “Track 2,” strikes a lovely balance between meta-narrative stuff and structural narrative work. The show needs to take the characters introduced in “Top Five Heartbreaks” and move them around the chess board, and it shows us that it knows it needs to do so, while also going about its narrative work. This is elegant, seductive storytelling.
“Track 2” introduces us to Rob’s philosophy of sequencing a playlist. By her lights, it’s an art and a science, using others’ poetry to say what you feel, with a little distance and plausible deniability built in so the list-builder can play it off like the songs they chose are just lovable bops, nothing more, if the recipient isn’t feeling it. So track 1 has to be familiar, yet unexpected, and needs to make the listener feel good. Track 2 then needs to meet the challenge of taking the promise of Track 1 further. It has to be a little more surprising and enticing, to make the listener think, “keep listening, there might be more here than you thought.” As goes Track 2, so goes “Track 2”.
Rob keeps confiding in the audience, slowly unspooling the thread of her mortifying breakup with Mac a year ago, while the show itself lets us in on more of her history with Simon, Cherise, and other fixtures of their steadily gentrifying neighborhood. Scenes in the shop, at Rob’s apartment, in the bodega, and their favorite bar all highlight the genuine camaraderie and affection among this trio, a welcome change from the book and film where they were friends only by default. Simon and Cherise fret over Rob, wondering if she’s sadder than usual or if it’s just her lamentable choice of sweater making her seem extra-pitiful.
Not that they’re going to hold back on the good-natured roasting of their boss-chum. When faced with a customer wanting to buy a copy of Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, Rob argues that it’s unfair to the genius of producer Quincy Jones to refuse to sell, then points out that Cherise’s beloved Kanye raps while wearing a MAGA hat. Cherise zings back that “having shitty politics and a second-grade understanding of American history is just a tiny bit different than being a goddamn child molester.”
Rob passes on an invitation to go out with Cherise and Simon after work, heading home to work on a playlist she claims is for a road trip. Quoting the opening lines of “Modern Love,” Rob reflects, “‘I know when to go out, I know when to stay in.’ David Bowie really had his shit together.”
Another series of flashbacks — each prompted by a song she includes in her playlist — start to fill in the gaps of Rob and Mac’s story. In the first episode, we only know their love was real because Rob says so and because Mac’s soft, kind eyes do a lot of the heavy lifting. Now we get Rob And Mac: The Golden Years; she’s reading aloud her list of Top Five Bowie albums for his edification. Mac is shocked that Rob hasn’t included Blackstar, repeating back to her word-for-word her rave review in a very passable American accent, while tickling her; Rob shrieks with delight and just before the mood turns definitively to sex, Mac excuses himself to stir the sauce (not a euphemism; he really does pop into the kitchen).
They tap-dance around whether to go out to a show; Mac could hit pause on his bolognese, but he clearly would rather not. Rob relents after tasting the bolognese (again, not a euphemism) and goes to the bedroom to change into sweats. As she rummages through the drawers for comfy clothes, she comes across a little red jewelry box, which holds a diamond ring. Rob’s face registers a range of not-thrilled emotions, primarily dread and a sort of constipated-looking revulsion.
Rather than even mentioning the ring to Mac, Rob bolts out of the apartment, claiming a desperate need to replenish their cat food supply, but once at the bodega, invokes her emergency cigarette password (“Liza Minelli”) so Carlos will sell her a pack. In spite of Mac’s bolognese awaiting her at home, Rob parks herself at the bar to brood over a whiskey, the bag of cat food beside her a silent rebuke.
Back in the present, Rob decides she needs to go out after all. Cherise and Simon stopped by and she’d brushed them off, but on exiting her building, sees that they’ve been waiting on her stoop. Goofy, lived-in banter ensues, followed by more of the same with Carlos at the bodega. Rob is loosening up, so while Cherise goes to chat up Turner, her cute bike-riding weed guy, Simon asks about Rob’s playlist. She told him it was for a road trip she’s planning, soooo is there a theme?
Rob admits there’s no road trip.
Simon: “I know. So the theme is…”
Rob, shrugging: “Love?”
Simon: “Yeah, cool, that’s classic”
Perfectly illustrating Rob’s earlier point about the magic of a good playlist, she confides that Mac is back in town and she’s seen him. Simon is taken aback, and sees Rob’s playlist obsession in a new light. She swears she’s only creating it as a therapeutic exercise, not for Mac himself. Seeing him was like the final scene of Braveheart — emotionally eviscerating, but without the silver lining of William Wallace planting the seed of Scottish independence. Rob’s delivery is breezy, but Simon knows she’s been listening to Minnie Riperton, too, and the combination is a big red flag to him.
As the trio rolls up to the bar, we get our first gentrification alert. Simon mentions that a favorite place has closed recently; Cherise announces she will lose her shit if their place closes, and Rob goes one step further, vowing she’ll burn the neighborhood down if it closes: “It’s one of the last places that feels like old New York to me… plus me and Mac had our first kiss here, so there’s that.” Memory is powerful!
Once in the club, a very cute fellow is playing an impassioned, just a guy-and-his guitar cover of Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You,” and Rob, Cherise, and Simon all agree: they used to hate this song, and now they kind of love it. As they all flirt with the singer at his merch table, we learn that his name is Liam and up close his smile is an orthodontist’s dream crossed with high-beams. Never one to miss an opportunity, Cherise shoots her shot, inviting him to swing by the store, and Rob peaces out as Sinéad O’Connor’s cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” rings out over the PA.
Nearly home, Rob points out how hard it is to nail a playlist closer — it’s the last thing the listener will hear “and the only thing they’ll remember.” As she enters the apartment, we seamlessly transition back to the past with Mac, the song carrying us there as Sinéad cries out “it’s been so lonely without you here, like a bird without a song.” It’s agony: both Rob and we know she’s fucking up on a massive scale, having stayed out way too late drinking herself into near-oblivion instead of having a little heart-to-heart with Mac and then relishing the bolognese and the very likely post-bolognese sex they could have segued to. Ice cold, but very reasonably so, Mac has gone to bed without her.
Rob stumbles her way through an apology, but gets there in the end, saying she found the ring and was scared, but has pushed past that feeling, so if Mac is “still into the idea,” she’d like to get married. Mac is, so they kiss and make up. Aw.
In the present, Rob is still brooding, picks up her phone and shares the playlist with… recipient unknown, but we can all guess. Sure enough, the next morning, we see that Mac was the recipient, and he’s left Rob on read. Ooof.
At a sibling brunch with Cam and his partner Nikki, Cam thinks that he’s breaking the news of Mac’s return to Rob. He keeps it light, sharing that he and Nikki had dinner with Mac a few weeks back, and is pleasantly surprised when Rob assures them everything is cool, because she already bumped into Mac in the neighborhood and they’ve caught up already. It’s fine! Rob announces she’s definitely not going to kill herself over it, and viewers would be right to wonder about just how dark a place Rob has been to in the year since her breakup with Mac.
Cam’s attempt to really stick the landing results in disaster, as he says casually that “we were super whatever about that Lily girl.” This allusion to Mac moving on romantically at all is too much; Rob ghosts them immediately. Rounding the corner from the restaurant, she screams directly into the camera, “WHAT! FUCKING! LILY GIRL?!!!!” This will certainly end well.
1) If you’ve seen the film adaptation, you know that Zoë Kravitz’s mother, Lisa Bonet, portrayed the hottie playing an unexpected cover of a previously hated schmaltzy song (Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way”). There was no winking acknowledgment of Bonet’s role in the film in this episode. What say you, readers: do you want the show to incorporate it, or just ignore that little tidbit of adaptation history altogether?
2) Musical cue of the episode: it’s a challenge to choose from this embarrassment of riches. Bowie is right there, but using two Prince songs is the truest flex, so I’m giving it to “So Blue.”