Lots of lyrics to love songs can sound menacing if you take them too literally or think about them from a certain slant — for instance, if you’re trying to title a recap after watching a particularly unsettling episode of television about a megalomaniacal tech billionaire who has kept his wife captive in a luxurious, eerie reality-ish “hub” where the sky is just a giant screensaver of clouds for ten years. The theme of holding on to somebody forever and ever: kind of chilling when you ruminate on this after watching said wife claw her way out of her tech fortress only to discover — dun dun DUNNNN — her techie husband has already implanted a chip inside her head!! One that allows him to see everything she sees and track her every move and possibly also hear her thoughts??!?! Anyway, my runner-up title was “And If I Had the Chance, I’d Never Let You Go,” but I bet you could easily come up with a few without even thinking too hard … share your most chilling suggestions in the comments!
But let’s pace ourselves, here. Made for Love is based on the book of the same name by Alissa Nutting, which I have every intention of reading, but once I took up these recaps, I thought, Hey, why don’t I hold off on that so we can go on this deranged journey together? Shows that take all the tropes about love we’re supposed to crave and turn them (and your stomach) inside out are very much in my Vulture wheelhouse (here’s looking at You — and I still haven’t read that source material, either). So I’ll be going into this blind, but if you did the reading before you came to class, A+ for you! Just keep your spoilers to yourselves.
We meet Hazel, played by Cristin Milioti rounding out her hat trick of “woman trapped in a sci-fi love story” roles (with the great Palm Springs and, yes, I’m going to put How I Met Your Mother into this category; it’s a weirder show than you remember, and anyway, it takes three to make a list). She’s the wife of the subtly named Byron Gogol (a reference to Gogol or Google or both? Works either way! And don’t get me started on the MAJOR red flag of your husband being named Byron), whose company is a very unnerving hybrid of Google and Amazon and Apple and other such tech companies that have completely taken over our lives; his demeanor and his home’s aesthetic remind me of Nathan from Ex Machina. What is it with tech dudes and smooth, bland surfaces?
Byron’s new product is called Made for Love, and any non-psycho would think it sounds like something out of Black Mirror (which Milioti has also been on, very useful prep for this experience, I bet): You and your beloved get matching chips implanted in your skulls, like Best Friends necklaces that require you to share every thought and feeling every second of every day until you die. Frankly, it sounds like the sort of thing only an abusive partner would invent, which maybe tells you everything you need to know about Byron.
Cut to our girl Hazel, slick with unidentified muck and emerging from a hatch in the desert, bleeding from the head. I have to say, if she planned this escape, she’s a little impractically attired: sparkly green minidress, no shoes. Bold choices abound. She gives the finger to a building cluster — we will soon recognize this as the Hub — and strides off while an Alexa-style speaker with the little g of the Gogol logo glows ominously in the sand.
Our episode jolts us back to 24 hours before said escape, and I will admit I find this device a little entry level — great storytelling can build suspense without this brazenly tension-building structure! — but I’ll allow it just because it makes me feel marginally less on edge for the rest of the half-hour to know that, at some point, Hazel will be Thelma & Louise–ing it out of her beautiful prison.
Hazel’s every move is tracked, documented, reviewed, and probably stored on some cloud somewhere that only her husband can access. Eventually, we learn that she knows this. She is even required to rate her orgasms — which are filmed for … educational purposes? — as if Byron were her Uber driver for going down on her. They live in stifling luxury. They have a dolphin named Zelda in their pool. If Hazel has any friends, we don’t see them; there are no family photos around the place. They have little earbuds that make screens appear in the air, and on one of these air screens, Byron and Hazel see that riots have broken out in seven countries over his latest Gogol tablets. (This is also where we learn, through a news report, that Hazel hasn’t left the compound in ten years.) Hazel is quietly plotting her escape behind extremely cute tortoiseshell sunglasses with lenses shaped like hexagons. Can anyone tell me where I can get these sunglasses? Do I have to marry a tech psycho and live in a beige cage for a decade with only my pool-dolphin for company first, or do you think I could find a dupe at Aritzia?
Hazel is surrounded by little tech roosters that tell her when to eat and nap. I like her chic napping sweater. It’s very Nancy Meyers. In fact, the whole color scheme of the Hub is Nancy Meyers–esque but with all the warmth and coziness sucked out of it. This feels a little obvious and on the nose as far as set-design choices go, but it’s believable and maybe that’s what matters most? Again re: on-the-nose choices: Hazel wears white or sandy-toned clothing whenever she’s in the Hub, her dress for the party (her last stop before her escape) is white with colorful beading (one foot in, one foot out), and her freedom clothes are so bright as to nearly scald the eye — sparkly green sequins, ketchup-red sweatsuit. But I’m getting ahead of myself!
Back to the future: Hazel hitches a ride with this big bearded guy in a van. Turns out he’s El Perro, a radio DJ that anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock would have heard of. Hazel has not heard of El Perro. She has not seen real money in ten years. I feel like the first thing she should do is ask to use his phone to call 911? But she just grins her outlaw grin and keeps going. When he basically abandons her to go do whatever it is he thinks is more pressing than helping out this woman who is obviously in severe distress (he doesn’t even think to bring her to a hospital? Not cool, El Perro), she slips into the employee locker room at a strip club and raids it for her necessary provisions: wardrobe change, six-pack of beer. Can I just say I LOVE a “desperate woman on the run makes herself over in a public bathroom” scene? Makes me want to leave my identity behind, dye my hair black over a gas-station sink, and fling myself at the horizon. Of course, I wouldn’t do that now because you guys are counting on me to recap the next seven episodes of this series. Maybe after!
So back in the past, Hazel is the charming party hostess pretending to drink and letting her guests in on a little secret: You can tell the Hub is fake because the clouds don’t move right in the corners of the cubes. Which I’m pretty sure is exactly how Katniss and the gang figured out the trick of the arena in the second Hunger Games book, right? Byron pulls Hazel in for one of those icky performative kisses — reminds me of the cringey red-carpet run of TomKat — then murmurs in her ear, “You’ve been lying to me.”
Then Byron makes his grand announcement: Made for Love is operational, baby!! Tomorrow, he and Hazel will be the first couple to take part in it. They’re “users one.” (Great little side bit from his assistants, who are wondering if Byron’s use of the first-person plural means he will finally be acknowledging their work … which, naturally, he does not.) One of Byron’s minions remarks to the other that one of the users will die if they go through with this. Zelda (the dolphin) has a chip, but it’s only one-way; a two-way chip would be fatal for one of the parties. Meanwhile, Byron is insisting everyone clap for him, à la Jeb Bush.
As she promised earlier in the day, Hazel sings with her “Anyway, here’s ‘Wonderwall’” husband on guitar. They do a little duet about how love is strange. It’s barf city. Then she walks back into their house through a door that appears out of nowhere. The dress she’ll wear for her escape is in a glass case on the wall. I wonder if we will find out why it’s being preserved in this manner. She smashes the case — a bold choice for someone I assume is hoping not to get caught as she flees captivity — and collects all her little rooster spies in a bedsheet. She smears on red lipstick, the mouth of harlotry and betrayal. (Also I bet she’s never allowed to wear that in this house of creams and taupes; it would never come out of the towels and sheets.) She twists the sheet around her neck and drops the weighted rooster end in the pool. It looks like an attempted suicide, but we don’t see (yet) how she gets from the bottom of the pool to her escape hatch in the desert.
Instead, we see her in the strip club, hiding from a Gogol lackey named Lyle who claims to be there to help her. Hazel responds by saying she’s “not a fucking idiot” and, in what I think is an accident but also not something she feels awful about, hacking off three of his fingers with an ax. She gets into a passing car whose driver takes her to the place she tells him was her home. At this point, she has blood splattered across her face, but the driver politely does not acknowledge this. Home, she says to herself as she walks down the street, is “a fucking shithole.”
Somehow, there’s a pay phone right where she gets dropped off, which seems like a miracle until it starts ringing just as she approaches it. The alarm in the car behind her starts beeping. The alarm in every car she passes does the same. A stranger comes up to her to say Byron Gogol is on the phone for her, and while she begins in a very defiant stance — “You tell him TOO LATE” — she quickly learns her worst nightmare has come to pass: He has already implanted the chip in her brain. She is MADE FOR LOVE. She sprints away in horror as her husband zaps her brain from afar like a true sociopath. “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HEAD!!” she screams. This show is going to give me so many nightmares.
She finds her house and is looking for her dad, played by Ray Romano, whom we glimpsed in a flashback of her childhood: Her parents were lovingly teasing each other as her dad attempted to make a little plane skyworthy (I believe he sold the family station wagon for this project? Interesting priorities) while sipping on some moonshine.
She opens the door on her dad having sex with a doll. He is … remarkably unfazed by his daughter returning to him in this state after ten years of being trapped in the Hub, by said daughter walking in on him screwing a mannequin, by the whole thing, really. I mean, at least for Hazel, this isn’t even the 70th weirdest thing that’s happened to her today. Nonetheless, she reacts to the combination of this scenario and the violent buzzing in her brain in the most rational way I can think of: by passing out.