‘Hightown’ Star on [Spoiler]’s Death: It Was ‘the Only Way’ It Could’ve Ended
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1, Episode 7 of Hightown, “Everybody’s Got a Cousin in Miami.”]
The world of Hightown is a dark one, and for one of the characters, his time in it came to an end in Sunday’s episode.
We met Junior McCarthy (Shane Harper) as the son of a Cape Cod fisherman and National Marine Fisheries Services Agent Jackie Quiñones’ (Monica Raymund) friend, but for the rest of the season, he was mixed up in the drug game, working for drug kingpin Frankie Cuevas (Amaury Nolasco) and his lieutenant Osito (Atkins Estimond) and disposing of bodies (including Sherry’s, whose murder kicked off the Starz drama).
And in the penultimate episode of the season, he met his demise, overdosing in a bathroom. If only he’d gotten on that bus to Miami like Osito told him to after the other man didn’t kill him like he’d been ordered…
Here, Harper discusses Junior’s death and arc throughout Season 1.
Junior had a couple close calls with death this season, even in this episode, but it’s his own vice that does him in. Was that the only way it could’ve ended for him?
Shane Harper: Yeah, I think so. Obviously Junior’s trajectory throughout the season has been really up and down but mostly spiraling down, and I feel like it is the only way to really bring home the narrative for his character arc in Rebecca [Cutter]’s world that she created.
If he hadn’t died and had gone to Miami, what do you think life there would have been like for Junior? Would he have been able to get clean?
I thought about that a lot. It haunts me sometimes. I wonder what that would have been like for him. I feel like given what actually happened in the story, I don’t know if he would have. That’s the hard part about the cycle of addiction. I don’t want to say he wouldn’t have. My hope for him is he would. I believe in Junior. Even though we lost him, I still believe in everything that he loves in his life and what motivated him and everything. I would hope he would have been able to reunite with his family and make it work. Unfortunately, it didn’t go that way.
Is there any point at which he could have actually gotten on that bus and made it to Miami?
If he would have gotten out earlier, I think he would have been able to pass that test. By the end of the season and going through everything he went through, with Krista and then taking off Kizzle’s head with a hatchet and burying it, that all is insurmountable. Early on, Episode 2 or 3, if he would have gotten out of Dodge, maybe he could have made it work, but not after everything.
Speaking of taking Kizzle’s head off, that was one of the moments he thought he was going to die. What was going through his mind when Osito killed Kizzle instead of him?
That was a weird headspace for Junior to be in because he had just gotten back on his addiction right before that. So he’s in a really weird headspace trying to keep his head in what’s going on. I think he’s a little confused, but walking through the woods, he’s not stupid. He knows that something serious is going on. When Osito pulls a gun, he’s immediately shocked. “He was my friend I thought I kind of trusted. Obviously he’s a drug dealer, but I didn’t think he would kill me.”
Osito and Junior had a couple of almost poignant conversations during the season, after Krista’s and Kizzle’s murders.
They’re a really strange partnership and friendship, the two of them. I really love their dynamic throughout the season. It got pretty rocky there at times. I think Osito was a voice of grounding and reasoning for Junior through all of these traumatizing experiences.
Osito gets Junior because Osito is not a hardened criminal. Osito has a heart still intact and still feels things, even though he’s much further along the road than Junior is. I think that’s what he identifies in Junior, to bridge the gap between them. It meant a great deal to have him as a mentor, if you will, not only in the drug game but just in life helping him out, understanding himself.
At the bus stop when he’s telling him, “It’s going to be okay,” and Junior’s like, “No, I messed up with Donna, this isn’t going to work.” He’s like, “No, get down to Florida, things are going to be OK, you can send for them.” He knows the world and Junior needs that calming presence. Osito’s been the thing driving Junior to the edge, but he’s also been the thing kind of holding him together, too.
Junior so badly wanted to make things work with Donna, but by this episode, he realizes he can’t go back. Could they have made it work?
Yeah, I think so. I hope so. I definitely believe in their relationship. It’s genuine, through and through, and I know that he loves [his daughter] and Donna. That’s been the most motivating factor for him, staying clean, but that was also a factor that caused him to stay in the drug game because he’s trying to make more money to provide a better life for them.
Throughout the season, we see Junior pull away from Jackie the deeper he gets with Frankie and Osito, but he still protected her when Osito and Kizzle showed up. Can you talk about how Junior and Jackie’s relationship changed over the episodes?
It’s so interesting because that scene at the end there when he does the hard thing to protect her from those guys, in a weird way, it’s almost like he grew up in their friendship. He has this kid brother vibe with her and they’re almost like family, but in that moment, he became almost her big brother, and he was like, “Hey, I’m going to save you right now. I know what’s going on. You don’t. And I’m going to take control of the situation.” He really loves her as a friend and cares about her and obviously is willing to put himself on the line to protect her, so in that moment, their relationship really evolved where he was helping her as opposed to her always being in the lead.
Jackie has Ed in her life. How much do you think Junior’s life could have changed with someone like that even if that hadn’t happened until after Sherry’s murder?
Unfortunately, Junior’s Ed is Osito, which isn’t a good Ed to have. [Laughs] It’s the wrong version of Ed. If he had someone that was more completely like Ed, then that would’ve been extremely helpful. He just needed a strong personality in his life to give him some direction because he’s just lost.
Are there any characters you’d wish Junior had interacted with more or any aspects of the character you wish you’d gotten the chance to explore more?
I wanted Junior and Ray to interact because I think Ray would have really broken Junior down in an interesting way. I feel like actually I’m not missing anything. I’m sure there’s definitely aspects to Junior’s life that would’ve been fun to explore in a Season 2 or 3, but I really feel grateful for all of the dynamics he got to go through in Season 1. I think Rebecca Cutter did a really wonderful job of just giving me a lot of opportunities to explore things with that character in the first season, so I feel at peace with all that.
Hightown, Sundays, 8/7c, Starz