When we first met Chris, she saw herself as a victim of the patriarchy’s refusal to regard female artists as anything but sexual objects. “I’m invisible,” she complained to Devon in episode two. In “This Is Not a Love Letter,” Chris has discovered one way to ensure that her work is seen. So what if the chauvinist judges of the Venice Film Festival think she’s a joke? She doesn’t need a man’s approval or permission to display her latest work; all she needs is enough scotch tape to stick her letters to Dick on walls all over Marfa.
The letters bring Chris the attention her films never did. Outside the grocery store and the Marfa radio station, locals pore over them like Dick is a Kardashian. We can only imagine that Dick won’t be too happy to find himself in the spotlight. As Devon’s sister puts it when she spots Sylvère at the taco truck in town, “Dick does not care to be made a spectacle of. You better watch your back.”
While Chris exhibits her letters around town, Toby exposes herself in a more literal way. When we last saw her, she was driving out to a man camp with the oil worker she met at the bar. Waking up in this strange new environment, she wanders outside to have a look around. An idea quickly occurs to her, and soon she’s peeling off her clothing in front of her iPad. Like Chris, she causes an immediate stir, bringing the men out of their trailers to gaze uncomfortably at her naked body.
In town, Dick sees the letters and starts tearing them off the adobe walls and grabbing them out of people’s hands. The local bar, where he sought refuge after he first read Chris’s letters to him, offers no respite this time. As he walks in, the regulars snigger about his “girl trouble.” One mockingly calls him “Picasso,” then quotes from the letters. “Dear Dick, can’t stop thinking about your face.” You get the sense they like taking the famous artist down a peg. Dick throws a pool ball at the man and storms out into the street.
For Devon and her theater friends, the letters are a bonanza. I’m not sure the group would be happier if Chris had gone around town taping up $100 bills. In Devon’s de-snaked art space, they pass around a joint and take turns reading their favorite lines aloud. “Is this the dumb cunt exegesis you were expecting?”
A smartphone ping interrupts their revelry. Geoff calls his friends over to look at Toby’s video feed of her nude performance at the man camp. “Wowee,” says Geoff, who knows an ilinx when he sees one. Toby is talking about “the beautiful landscape pillaged by phalluses pumping oil.” The oil men keep their distance. “This is a fucking trap,” one of them warns his buddy in a panic. “Don’t look away,” Toby murmurs into her iPad. How could you? She’s one female artist who knows how to make herself visible.
On the heels of his tussle at the bar, Dick barges into Sylvère’s place and throws a stack of the letters at him. Sylvère tries to make it clear that he doesn’t “feel that way” about Dick, not that Dick cares one way or another. “This is a serious invasion of my privacy,” he says. “You and your wife need to stay the hell away from me.” Head in his hands, Sylvère apologizes and admits that he’s at a loss to explain what’s going on. He and Dick can agree on that, if nothing else, and in an improbable moment of camaraderie, they share a drink.
Their sit-down begins with a disagreement. Dick says he can recommend a mental facility for Chris, which prompts Sylvère to come to her defense. “She’s not some whack job,” he declares, outraged on her behalf. Softening, he adds that she’s “far from the craziest chick I ever went out with.” Dick cracks a rare smile, and soon they’re trading stories about the crazy chicks they’ve dated. “What’s wrong with these women?” Sylvère moans. In the first instance of Dick conceding that Chris is anything other than a crazy stalker, he allows that she “wins points for creativity.”
At the man camp, another little buddy comedy is taking place. By now, Devon & Co. have arrived at the scene, and the oil drillers are grilling meat for lunch. Sidling up to one of the guys at the grill, Geoff offers his analysis of Toby’s work: “It’s a postmodern bricolage of high and low culture,” he posits in his impeccable Oxbridge accent. The grill guy puts it in more plain-spoken terms: “It’s some real art-becomes-life-becomes-art shit.”
Devon is less impressed with the work. She accuses Toby of “inflicting her privilege on all these working-class, mostly brown dudes.” Part of what bothers Devon is that Toby is “using these guys without their consent.” In that sense, Toby isn’t much different from Chris: Although both women are engaged in acts of self-exposure, they’re also exposing the men around them as powerless to stop or control them.
Visibly stung, Toby disses Devon’s play as mere “found text” — an artistic ripoff. But when the cops show up, Devon plays the hero, pulling off her own shirt in an act of solidarity. The cops arrest them both, pushing Devon into the back of the squad car, and it’s there, with her hands cuffed behind her back, that Devon has her first truly original inspiration. Looking out the window, she has a vision of the oil dudes as graceful dancers. Unlike Toby, Devon sees them as beautiful.
Back at Sylvère’s place, the boys are drinking their dinner with a side of burnt quesadilla. The alcohol has Sylvère feeling loose, and he playfully accuses Dick of bringing the fiasco upon himself. “You ride a horse into town, you have a cowboy hat and belt buckle. What’s the effect you’re going for?” He goes on: “You’re seducing her by being so dismissive of her. Your whole cowboy persona plays into the longing she has to be rejected by a quiet desperate man.”
Dick brushes off Sylvère, but he eventually explains why Chris’s letters are so upsetting to him: It’s humiliating to be someone else’s muse. What’s truly humiliating, Sylvère replies, is love — especially loving someone who lusts publicly after another man. “You’d ever been married, you’d know that,” he says. Turns out, Dick has been married before. His wife died a year after they wed.
This disclosure is followed by an awkward silence, which ends with an even more awkward proposition. Sylvère suggests — no, insists — that Dick sleep with Chris. “I just think that if you fuck her, once, and I mean once, she will see you’re mortal, and … and that your skin is sagging, and your breath is bad, just like everybody else,” he says.
Dick tells Sylvère that he’s not attracted to Chris, but in the final scene of the episode, he goes to Chris’s room at the Blue Spurs Inn, where she checked in after hanging the letters that morning. She greets him at the door wrapped in a towel, a pore strip across the bridge of her nose. “Well,” says Dick, “you got my attention.” The impromptu exhibition has finally garnered her notice. But you can tell from the shock in her face that she’s completely unprepared for whatever might happen next.
Film clips, in order of appearance
I Love Dick weaves short clips from avant-garde feminist directors throughout each episode. Sometimes, those clips blend into the story lines unfolding in Marfa; other times, they’re used for contrast. In each recap, we’ll identify them.