“Did you get to do everything you wanted?” That’s the question posed to Chris by her aborted son in the fantasy sequence that opens the season’s final episode, “Cowboys and Nomads,” but it could just as easily apply to series creator Jill Soloway herself. Some critics have argued that the Amazon show falls short of the ambitious and beloved cult novel, in part because the real Chris Kraus sublimated her obsession with Dick into an influential work of art — the boundary-busting book itself — whereas the Chris in the show has yet to achieve anything as significant. Her decision to display her letters around Marfa might be the beginning of something, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone outside of town will read them.
And then there are the letters themselves, which, as far as we can tell, focus squarely on her psychodrama with Dick. In the book, she uses the epistolary format to address a whole range of subjects, from the Guatemalan civil wars to Emma Bovary and The Golden Bowl. When Devon first meets Chris, she describes her as someone who is “trying to become somebody.” Has she reached this goal by the end of the final episode? Chris’s answer to her dead children feels true. “No,” she tells them. “I mean, I’m not dead yet, right? So I guess there is a chance.” Loyalists of the book might see this as an unsatisfying conclusion to her story arc; fans of the show may allow themselves to hope that it’s a setup for a second season.
When Chris snaps out of her fantasy, she finds herself in Dick’s pool, wet and cold. (Soloway has a thing for baths; see Hahn’s mikvah scene in Transparent.) Meanwhile, the theater group is going around town distributing invitations to some sort of “ritual performance thing,” handing them out to cowboys and yoga students alike. Devon tries to get Sylvère to take part, but he makes it quite clear that he isn’t interested. “Oh no, no rituals for me,” he says. If he’s in a bad mood, it’s not hard to understand why. “You cannot love somebody unless you’re willing to destroy yourself,” he says. “Boom! I did it.”
Up at Dick’s ranch, Chris’s fantasies about Dick are going boom too, like watermelons left out too long in the sun. In the hot bath Dick draws for her after she crawls out of his pool, shaking from the cold, Chris can’t help but notice the bottle of stool sampler resting by the soap. When she asks him about the line of massive boulders she spotted on her way up to the house, he reveals that he didn’t, in fact, move them there by his own sweat and force. “I can’t move boulders by myself,” he tells her. Nor can he fly, end world hunger, or burn holes in solid steel with his smoldering gaze.
Over a plate of spaghetti and a glass of whiskey, Dick tells her that he’s left the institute. For the first time, we learn about how he ended up in Marfa. Turns out, he wasn’t always a cowboy. Like Chris, he started out in New York. “I tried to get away from the noise, the scene, and I did.”
For a while, anyway. Chris has made a lot of noise in Marfa, but that isn’t the problem. If anything, the stir her letters caused made him take the measure of his life, and conclude that the noise is inside his head. He’s leaving the institute because he, like Chris, yearns to change.
He seems eager, now, for Chris to see him as he really is. He plays her a song by the New York Dolls, then tells Chris that Johnny Thunders kissed him once, during an “ecstasy thing.” “I do remember he had very soft hair,” Dick says. So much for straight lines. They dance to the Dolls and it develops that Dick isn’t much of a dancer. But they twirl together anyway, and when Dick suggests they get drunk and make a fire, Chris still has enough of her original fantasy left to say yes.
In town, Sylvère finishes his letter to Dick, and completes some vigorous sun salutations. He seems to have turned the corner on his despair over the dissolution of his marriage and possibly his career at the institute. When Devon’s ritual begins, he’s among the crowd of performers, despite his earlier protestations. Based on the rehearsals we’ve seen all season, I wasn’t sure whether Devon’s play would amount to much more than the derivative piece of “found text” that Toby accuses her of producing in episode six. Ultimately, though, Devon is able to create something original in the “beauty dance” she leads the men of Marfa in performing. She and the men shake their fists to the sound of a pounding drum and hug themselves while swaying their hips, oil drillers side by side with hipster artists and cowboys. It’s moving to see the more manly men express themselves in such a vulnerable way. For Sylvère, the dance is cathartic; in his closing shot, we see him rocking back and forth, face lifted to the sky, lost in the passion of the moment.
Dick and Chris are also moving toward catharsis. At the ranch, the balance of power has shifted between them; now it’s her turn to roll a cigarette while he stares at her longingly. When Dick attempts to share some cowboy wisdom with Chris, pointing out Orion’s Belt, she corrects him. That’s when Dick kisses her. This time around, there’s a lot more heat. He certainly has no trouble telling her what to do. Following his instructions, Chris takes off her pants and unbuttons her shirt. But, as with Dick’s dancing, there’s something almost excruciatingly awkward about his foreplay. “That’s me, you know. That’s me making you wet,” he proclaims excitedly after putting his hand between her legs. He wants to hear her say it out loud. “It’s all you,” she moans in his ear.
Except it isn’t. When he pulls his hand up it’s covered in blood, and he looks at it as though it’s dripping toxic waste. Hard to imagine a real cowboy reacting so squeamishly, though maybe it’s the macho part of him that finds menstruation so threatening. As Chris wonders whether she’s late or early, Dick excuses himself to go and wash up. This seems to be the clincher for Chris, who could handle the news that he’d kissed a man and couldn’t move boulders, but can’t tolerate his disgust for a woman’s body. She dons his cowboy hat and walks out the door, blood trickling down her thigh. Only by confronting the disappointing reality of Dick was she finally able to break free from the fantasy that has gripped her since arriving in town. Her exit feels like a liberating gesture, but we are left wondering what she’ll do with her newfound independence. Will she fall back into the doldrums of a sexless marriage? Will she continue on her path of personal transformation to create a fully realized work of art, as the real Chris Kraus did with the book that inspired this show? As she walks along the side of the dusty road, the sun rising above the plains, she tells Dick, in a voice-over, that she plans to write him one last letter. Unless we return to Marfa for a second season — which I, for one, would gladly welcome — we’ll never know what, if anything, she wrote.
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.
(1) Maya Deren, At Land