Against the backdrop of Gabe's love letter to Hattie, forged in the chaotic aftermath of hurricane Katrina, unfolded a story about love, loss, commitment and the choices we make to keep hope alive, let go or hold on too tight.
Interestingly enough things seemed to start once more with Eleanor, whose passing in Lost Without You also acted as a catalyst for some of the events of that film. Despite her absence, the contents of her office once more spur the POstables on towards growth through Gabe's letter, meant specifically for Oliver, Eleanor's pet potato, which "Dad" lets NoRita keep, and the blender, which Shane acquires.
Gabe's letter, written in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, and his message of hope and commitment born out in action by his appearance on the steps of Denver's capital building every Sunday for twelve years, became a mirror for Oliver's actions and responses to his greatest challenge in Higher Ground.
Much like the chaos of Katrina separated Gabe and Hattie, so Shane's sudden departure, spurred on by ex-boyfriend Steve Marek's return with an urgent request, separated Shane and Oliver just as they took a significant step towards each other.
As Gabe attempted to keep Hattie alive through his music, Oliver attempted to keep his hope for Shane's return alive by refusing to give up on reuniting Gabe and Hattie. It was a task made harder, and perhaps even more pressing, in Shane's absence. As the months pass, Oliver is forced to choose between falling into old habits or challenging his own "insanity." Shane, in her own right, is challenged to do the same.
And when the two came together again, the results were satisfying, right down to the secret ingredient for the perfect Kombucha smoothie. And, of course, the ShOliver reunion comes after successfully reuniting Gabe and Hattie, whom each Oliver and Shane participated in bringing back together despite being miles apart.
An un-separated couple that only benefited from their constant companionship was Norman and Rita, who tried their hand at potato parenting. It was clear that even as they worked to grow and build something beyond just themselves, the heartache transpiring between Oliver and Shane
inspired Norman to hope for more in his future and act on it.
The first was Papa O'Toole, who, unencumbered by the wounds of his past is kind of quirky and unexpected in both word and deed. From poking fun at Oliver for the pace with which he approaches his relationship, to dating Kate---who clearly has no taste (or sense of smell, apparently)---proves dear old dad has some work to do when it comes to women.
At the same time, his relationship with Oliver has hit new milestones, from discussing dating, to encouraging him to "take his time" next chance Oliver got to kiss Shane, their time on screen together produces moments worth rewinding
Gregory Harrison, thank you for continuing to lend your talents and comedic timing to Papa O'Toole.
Not to be outdone, Ramon returned not only with a new profession, but a new utility in his understanding of music, and ability to help the POstables develop a solid lead for their latest letter mystery. His ability to "turn lemons into soup" was perhaps just the thing they needed to find Gabe, and we were never short on laughs in the process. I highly suggest they continue Poker night long into the future.
Zak, thanks for bringing yourself back to play this multi-functional character who only endears you more time you spend playing him on screen.
Mark, it was hard to see you play the overt and blatantly deceptive antagonist this time. But I thank you---I thank you for doing it well and convincingly. You played Steve just selfish enough to make Shane's affections a prize to be won by force, but still sincere enough to be believed when admitting Steve still had deep feelings for Shane. It was perfect in a way that almost made us feel sorry for Steve---almost.
To Kevin Moore (Keb' Mo') and Karen Holness, the only thing better than watching Gabe and Hattie try so hard not to fall in love was to watch them reunite after such a long time apart. It was a beautiful moment both musically and between the two of you as your characters. You could almost see Gabe and Hattie falling in love all over again. Thank you for sharing your hearts with us through your performances.
Keb' Mo', half the content and depth of this film could not have truly been conveyed without you lending it your soul-churning music. Thank you!
No matter where it starts, it all comes back to Martha, who, also in the face of uncertainty, went to great lengths to not only honor her actors, but all of us through the intricate weaving of thematic, structural and dialogue-based references to each of the previous 18 installments into Higher Ground. At the same time, she presented us with a bright future for Shane, Oliver, Rita and Norman that never ceases to put me in tears. This movie will undoubtedly continue to stand out as one of the greatest in the series no matter how many come after it. Thank you.
Needless to say there's a lot here to unpack--- from pens, to pocket squares, to chairs that turn clockwise---and those are just some of the minor things! As always, A&D will be taking it on one piece at a time. I've got more scoop on how it all came together, and I even have a few more set stories to tell. Trust me, you won't want to miss it!
A Mile High,