Though many of the circumstances of Hazel’s life are totally foreign to me — synthetic partner as stepmom, living on the lam from a billionaire who turned your brain into his home entertainment system, also I have more of a standard eye circumference but that’s neither here nor there — this episode is DEEPLY relatable to me, as someone who believes there is no better place for a heart-to-heart than a diner.
Hazel and Byron negotiate over where to meet to discuss this divorce, and here we must suspend some logical concerns because I guess addressing them would make for bad TV. But: Hazel is really going to sign these papers without letting a lawyer read them first? Also: Wouldn’t she have signed her tabs before she even got to the meeting? And now she’s going to go into this meeting by herself? With a guy who kidnapped her and probably has the ability to just ZAP her to death at any moment? But I can see how having a bunch of interlopers would ruin what we’re really going for here from a TV POV, of an intimate and honest conversation between two people who have spent a decade only being strategically intimate (as we will learn shortly!) and lying all the time.
Hazel rolls up to this meeting in short shorts and boots; I know she’s supposed to look trashy but I kind of like this outfit? Am I wrong? She does NOT want to be hugged or called “Noodle.” I bet Noodle is a name Byron found in a book of “cute pet names for your girlfriend” and he just started using it without even asking her if she liked it. I will say that, despite everything, he is very charming here. He tells her he’s not watching her feed anymore even though that’s not exactly true, since he is still relying on information from the feed (reported to him by Bennett) to make all of his decisions.
This whole meeting is being observed carefully by Judiff and Herb. After Judiff arrives to find Herb and Diane, hilariously, reading the newspaper and consulting each other on the crossword, Judiff explains that DUH this whole thing is a TRAP, everything Byron does is in his own self-interest and he and Hazel went on one date and then she DISAPPEARED FOR TEN YEARS. They pull up to the diner and Judiff manages to hide a recording device on a bottle of ketchup in such a way that nobody notices it’s there … incredible tech, good job Judiff. There is some back-and-forth later when the ketchup bottle lands on a different table, but by and large it serves its purpose here and Judiff and Herb can overhear most of what’s going on, which Judiff is also recording for later review and possible admission into evidence. (The best part is when Herb says, “That’s a good mic. Picks up sarcasm.”)
So as Hazel frantically signs at the tabs (again, why didn’t she do this before, where is her LAWYER, okay I’m sorry, moving on) Byron tries to make cute couple-y conversation, asking what she’s been up to. Unfortunately a lot of this conversation is just like, what if the meaning of the show were articulated aloud multiple times by its main characters — “How did that feel … to find out something about me that I chose to tell you?” Good Lord, we GET it — but things do get very funny when Byron struggles to order a meal, and when he makes a cute joke: “I don’t need to be a handsome recluse. I can just be handsome.” Do we think Bennett wrote that line? Yes.
Hazel and Byron debate the meaning of free will and happiness. Will it shock you to learn that Byron believes life is better in the Hub because out in society “people are prisoners to life’s variables”? SMH Byron you can’t use “prisoners” in a figurative way when you are making this kind of analogy because Hazel was literally a prisoner in your Hub! Hazel does not take this approach, instead pointing out that what Byron is describing as difficult is essentially poverty and obviously if he lived outside of the Hub he would still lead the functionally frictionless life of the superrich.
Byron begs Hazel to come back. She names her terms for reasons unclear (why is she even humoring this line of conversation?? I guess to get his confession on tape but she doesn’t know the table is bugged so that makes no sense … again, given her trauma, etc., it seems highly unlikely she would expose herself in this manner but OKAY let’s move on): No more surveillance, no more orgasm review — “I already have the data I need,” okay thank you, Byron, actually not the point — and no more nutrient-intake counters, no more censored movies and books, she gets to pick fabrics and nail polish (Byron argues for a coherent aesthetic, naturally), and no more alarms and music out LOUD not in headphones and also a pet, which crosses a line for Byron, who says if you don’t wear pants you can’t sit on furniture. Also Hazel wants her own cell phone, to be able to come and go as she likes, and most of all she wants the chip out.
Hazel is all “are you admitting that you were wrong” because she is such a girl, like, I’m sorry but that is peak girlfriend (or wife in this case) to have obviously won the argument but still just need to hear the words “I was wrong” or it’s like the whole ordeal was for nothing. Byron almost admits this but then he undoes it by saying that technically the chip was effective! See, look how much better he knows her now! Wouldn’t this be cool as a disposable wearable tech piece that people wear for a short amount of time? Hazel does a great rage-whisper: “You think all of this was just a fucking rough patch?” “That’s actually a great name,” Byron says, and I am dead. Hazel is his muse!
Byron says he finally gets it: What Hazel really wants is choice. He wants to give up control. I want to direct him to a recent New York Times piece he might enjoy. He claims he is ready to be vulnerable which Hazel says is pretty rich from a guy who practices “performance celibacy” and here is where we learn that while Byron went down on Hazel aplenty, he never had sex with her or let her reciprocate because he wanted to “avoid emotional flooding”!!!!! Hazel accurately describes this as “torture” wherein “I had to give you all of my vulnerability and you wouldn’t give me any of yours,” which is again the show making the characters say out loud the extremely obvious themes of the series, for which I am docking a star.
They have a little fantasy of “starting over” so Hazel can learn some of the sad origins of Byron’s life: His real name is Greg, he’s from Montana, his dad is a mailman, his mom left with his brother when Greg was 8, and “she’s probably dead.” He is afraid of being alone. He is excited by watching Hazel. Just talking about this makes him — what was his phrase? Emotionally flood. A-plus camerawork here by director Stephanie Laing. He comes the moment the ketchup bottle hits the table. Hazel bursts out laughing and applauds, then demands he sign the papers. (Don’t they need witnesses for this to be legit? I honestly don’t know but I just started watching The Good Wife and I feel like they do?)
Here is where Byron reveals that, what do you know, he does not really want Hazel to have choices or freedom; he has no interest in relinquishing control, or her. He tells her that Herb has pancreatic cancer and will die within the year in the world but that at the Hub he could be saved. Hazel calls his bluff and says she’d rather let him die, which is a thing Herb overhears, which is … a lot.
But then: TWIST. Hazel gives her dad one last chance to come clean about the cancer, and Dad says Byron was messing with her. But then we discover: Hazel drugged Herb so he would sleep through the total stripping of his home and its recreation in a Hub cube! Here I feel obligated to point out that it seems Hazel has learned absolutely nothing from her incarceration re: the importance of free will in a relationship, the need to make your own decisions even if they are not the decisions your loved ones want you to make, etc. I mean, why would she do this in this way? As opposed to, say, telling her dad about this option and letting HIM decide what should happen to his body and his life? It’s really not her call to make!
Over breakfast in what Herb thinks is his house but is really in the Hub, they have yet another very on-the-nose conversation wherein Hazel says she envies Diane’s worry-free pore-less existence and Dad literally says “kind of like what you had with Byron” and I write in my notes OH MY GOD WE FUCKING GET IT WE SEE THE PARALLELS STOP POINTING THEM OUT.
Hazel maintains the illusion of freedom by telling her dad she’s going for a walk. The clouds have a little glitchy corner in them — as she tells Byron when she walks through a disappearing door, a panel is out in the sky. It’s very jarring to see her in her home clothes in the Hub. Byron puts his arm around her like everything is fine and she is not just trudging against her will back into his special cage for her.
Judiff pieces it together but she’s too late to save them. Or IS she? I’d bet on her before I’d believe in Herrringbone or Fiffany, who I assume are still bumbling around in the pasture cube, waiting for death.