One of the toughest things about plotting and pacing is knowing when to withhold information and when to reveal it. Withholding everything for too long is infuriating and inspires viewers to come up with increasingly bonkers theories about what the reveal will ultimately be, which will mean they are inevitably disappointed with the result — no matter how clever or correct. But word-vomit all your explanations the minute something comes up and your show is so “no duh!” obvious that even a child would be bored by it. It is tricky to find the sweet spot, and all of us can probably think of a dozen shows that have failed because they missed the mark in one way or the other.
I say this because: I’m very impressed with the intel-doling-out style of our show! We get some big answers here, and satisfying ones, to questions raised by the circumstances in our first two episodes and by Hazel’s behavior — answers that both give our brains that satisfying seatbelt-fastening click of Ooh, okay, that’s what that was while also kicking open a new line of questioning for us to wonder about as we move forward. For instance: Hazel had not left the Hub since her wedding night, which was also the night of her first date with Byron, which explains the outfits in the glass cases on the wall: They memorialized their first date attire. (This also explains why the green is this stunning jolt of color never to be seen again on Hazel’s body in the Hub until she makes a run for it: It’s probably the last dress she ever picked out for herself.) But this explanation leads us to a whole new tier of questions: Wait, they got married the same night as their first date, which was also the night they met?!? Like an actual Married at First Sight situation?! What? How? Why???
More important things that we learn: The Hub, which has no visible doors or gates, is a bunch of cubes stacked on top of each other, and each one contains its own biodome. A frictionless virtual reality of screens and whatchimacalits that Byron can make look and feel (but not smell!) like anything he chooses. Neither Byron nor Hazel has been seen outside the Hub since they moved in. Also, Hazel has been edgy about Byron and uncomfortable with her life for quite some time. Like, at least three years, which brings us to the beginning of our episode here: Hazel and Byron are being interviewed by Keegan, a reporter from Weekend America, the first reporter to ever be invited to the uber-secretive Hub. In order to go there, he is required to submit to a kind of consensual kidnapping (blindfolded, escorted in and out by Byron’s security), which … red flag!!!
Byron is showing Keegan that Made For Love commercial we saw in the premiere. Hazel is horrified to see that she is in a commercial she did not actually shoot. She pulls her husband aside for a little off-the-record chat. He explains, as if this is perfectly reasonable, “You were busy that day,” so he just used tech wizardry to make her look like she was in it. WHAT. Clearly unhappy and nervous about this product, she tries a different tactic, saying she doesn’t get why Byron is making ads for “something that’s not possible yet,” which brings out a side of Byron that is both very vulnerable and very scary — your classic abuser combo — as he twists it around on her: Why doesn’t Hazel believe in him? As he bullies her out of being able to express herself, he triumphantly declares that this is why they need Made For Love: an end to all miscommunications! (As I believe is Made For Love standard practice, our shot here is underlining our theme in a not not obvious way: They’re on opposite sides of the metal bar in the sliding glass door, so it almost looks like they’re in a split-screen, speaking to each other from distant worlds.)
Reporter Keegan asks his audience if Byron is a genius saving the world or “a megalomaniac narcissist who cannot function in normal society”? GEE I WONDER. It is hilarious how Byron calmly explains the “logic” behind imprisoning himself in a virtual reality jungle gym of his own creation as if it were a perfectly reasonable reaction to being tired of all that pesky work travel. And who CARES if environmentalists are mad about the drain on resources?? Ugh, they’re just like the animal rights activists who say it’s wrong to treat Zelda the dolphin like a guinea pig! Zelda is a key member of the research team and also, says Hazel, “she’s family.” I feel like Zelda hates her pool-bound and chip-monitored existence and is begging to be sent back to the Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper from which she was stolen.
Also/sidebar: Remember the two people I thought were assistants in the first episode because Byron treated them like little Devil Wears Prada minions? Turns out they are scientists. Dr. Fiffany Hodeck (yes, Fiffany-with-an-F) is a chief science officer, the one who says Zelda is having a wonderful life, thank you very much.
Hazel appears out of nowhere (zero visible doors) wearing a white shirt and loose cream-colored pants, as is the sartorial law of the Hub. During a sit-down interview where I assume her job is to make him seem like a marginally more normal and not-insane person, all of their chatter just reveals how bizarro Byron is: He only sleeps two hours a night using a helmet that puts him in the ultimate REM sleep, and he doesn’t actually eat?? He eats FLAVORBALLS. And no, he does not know who Willy Wonka is … the man did not have a childhood.
When the Made for Love chip comes up, Keegan asks the obvious: Will people really be okay with a CHIP inside their BRAINS?! Byron says “yes,” while Hazel says “Umm.” Byron believes that marriage is a risk and the only way to make it risk-proof is to completely abolish the (healthy, normal, necessary) boundaries between two people. Byron says people only want privacy because of “a fear-based response to think transparency leads to rejection.” I feel like Byron’s parents had a very messy divorce. Hazel dodges the question of whether or not she’d get the chip by saying she is so lucky to already have a partner with whom she is soooo synced. (I did giggle at Byron’s attempt to get Hazel to say “sentences” after he prompts her with “we finished each otherssssssss.’)
It is also very funny to me that Byron thinks this chip will solve the problems he describes (taking him at his word, which I’m sure is not the full picture here) when literally anyone with even a baseline social or emotional intelligence could just look at his wife or listen to her talk and see that she is extremely unhappy, tense, and anxious. But nope, no way to find out what she’s really thinking without a chip in her head!
Does Hazel ever get nostalgic for life outside? Hazel misses beer, maybe. A perfect transition back to that bartender?! But no, instead she is asked if she will ever leave the Hub and she responds: “I plan on being here until the day I die,” and then we are back at her suicide attempt.
I know this is NOT the point of this moment but: Her lipstick still looks perfect even after she has been underwater for, like, a WHILE. Is it Fenty? Can someone from HBO please tell me in the comments? It reminds me of that eyeliner review that was like “this stayed put even in a car wreck.” Hazel is ready to give in to the water when Zelda squeak-squeaks at her and points her to a door. How does Hazel not drown?! This takes forever! Maybe it’s special tech-y pool water that even humans can breathe in … this seems like something Byron would invent to get out of learning how to swim. Hazel flutter-kicks away to freedom.
So now we are back in the present day, at Hazel’s house, as she tells Byron she wants a divorce and she wants the chip OUT of her brain and she does NOT want him to come near her. Byron insists that Hazel only thinks that’s what she wants but Hazel does not know what she wants, and this is her essential problem. I mean, okay buddy, very astute, but I’d take that classic conundrum over whatever the hell your deal is. Byron “cries” thinking about how he could’ve found Hazel dead in the pool and he does this by saying “I’m crying,” and Hazel — perfect delivery here — observes, “You’re not, actually.” This whole scene is so funny. I think my favorite part is when Byron recites some of their wedding vows, which, you know, would have the average guest (were there guests at this wedding?) rolling their eyes in the back row — “We will become a singular living god” — and Hazel screams at him, “I THOUGHT THOSE WERE METAPHORS.”
Byron claims he had no choice but to do this (this = implant a chip in her brain without her consent) because he had to know for sure if Hazel loved him (again if only there were some other way for him to figure this out … like perhaps by getting to know her at all … maybe listening to her when she talks … reading her body language …?) and the data, alas, were not what he was hoping for. He wonders if she ever loved him, and she honestly does not know.
Byron goes full crazy with the whole, “I’m actually helping you” and “you feel worthless unless someone loves you” and “I’m the ONLY one who loves you objectively” and don’t even get him started on her dad: “Not to be mean but he loves a sex doll,” lol. Hazel starts crying (for real not for show) and Byron says that he will take the chip out if that’s what she wants, it’s just that he can only do it at the Hub. HMMM. I am suspect. Hazel needs a walk, and I approve. She starts making demands for how the Hub would need to change. Byron doesn’t totally get it — “You have the nature walk! It’s horizontal” — but he says he’s willing to do whatever, including put smells in the Hub.
After this seeming truce, Byron allows Hazel to go for her walk, even though he is watching what she sees through the TV screen. While Hazel’s dad occupies Byron by making some pitches (he has an idea for an inflatable battery!), Hazel finds herself at a LITERAL CROSSROADS. (Okay, I’m sorry, but some of these filming/set designs are a little too on the nose.) Anyway, she takes the road that leads her to the bartender, as we knew she would. She is following his scent like a little hound dog. Probably to the average person who has not been deprived of scent through imprisonment in a scentless Hub would be really troubled by the, ah, musk of this person. But Hazel marches on until she finds him — a shirtless man with his arms submerged in a barrel of yeast, making his own beer.
“Don’t talk anymore,” she says. “Just do exactly what I say.” I guess he picks up on the weird vibes of the whole thing but this does not prevent him from following her clear instructions, which are to take off his pants and to touch himself with his yeasty hands. He doesn’t even know why he’s doing this. The best part is that Dad watching at home just leaves Byron with the screen once things start getting a little PG-13. The bartender comes, Hazel offers a chipper “thank you!” and walks away until she finds her reflection in a car window, so Byron can see her face. “I don’t know what I want. But I know I don’t want you, Byron.”
Byron goes back to the Hub, temporarily defeated and in great need of two whole hours of sleep. Hazel sprawls on a bed she seems quite relieved to not have to share with any other person. Admires the tan lines where her wedding band used to be. Flings out her arms with the freedom of someone who isn’t trying not to disrupt a weirdo sleeping in a gizmo-helmet. But Byron will still see her in the morning.