Byron has decided he needs to prepare to meet Hazel where she lives: the real world. This is an interesting twist because while Hazel was imprisoned in the Hub, Byron never left, just because he never wanted to — or, as we are learning, because he was totally incapable of functioning out in society. Everything that Hazel hated about the Hub is what Byron loves about it: It’s all frictionless and fragrance-free, temperature-controlled, sterile. I am very curious about what circumstances led to him literally never leaving his enclave, especially in the early years. Was his last time out and about the day he spotted Hazel on that college campus?
So, Byron is engaging with a Hazel simulation on a beach. It’s intriguing to me that Simulation Hazel gets to wear a color (blue!), but it’s still a sort of muted, slate blue, very close to a neutral — practically gray, really. And she’s wearing heels. On the beach. Okay. Simulation Hazel has this perfect weird computer voice, almost Siri-like but not quite. Byron, as if reciting from a script, tells her that he’s learned his lesson: “I don’t want to control you. I want to connect with you. The real you.” He gives her what I thought was a flavorball but I later learn is a doughnut hole. Or is it a doughnut-hole-flavored flavorball? Suddenly, Simulation Hazel shorts out and Bennett is summoned. Is there something wrong with the algorithm?!
Byron explains to Bennett that the reason he didn’t implant the chip to merge after all is because he wants what Hazel wants. (Bennett: “A divorce?”) No, Bennett: authenticity! The problem with Simulation Hazel is that she is FAKE. Just like Hub Hazel! Byron has Bennett crank up the simulation to level ten, which maximizes real-world variants. Hilariously, Byron cannot keep it together while dealing with the mundane and extremely ordinary annoyances of a beach day: other people kicking sand and volleyballs into their picnic, a dog interrupting and eating their doughnut holes.
Real Hazel wakes up strapped to a gurney. Fiff (who I am calling Fiff and not Fiffany because nothing I do can get autocorrect to stop changing Fiffany to Tiffany, so I’m giving up!!) and Lyle are excited that Hazel is not actually dead because this means Byron must have reconsidered merging. They have five minutes to get the chip out, but — twist! — Hazel says she’s changed her mind. Also, she doesn’t really trust either of them, seeing as they did not help her at all while she was held hostage for ten years “and forced to have a performative orgasm on camera every morning.” (Lyle: “My fingers are rotting in a cooler.”)
Hazel gets into Fiff’s head, telling Fiff she is just like Byron. Lyle says they can just hold Hazel down and sedate her, but Fiff, too, is having a change of heart. That’s not the kind of person she wants to be! She sets Hazel free. (I love Cristin Milioti’s helpless-toddler sound at not being able to unbuckle the gurney strap.) They leave her in the desert so Byron won’t see them when he comes back online. How is Hazel supposed to get home? That’s a problem for another part of the episode!
Meanwhile, Fiff gives Lyle an envelope of cash to cover his hotel stay. Fiff doesn’t know what’s next for her, only that she has to move forward without Byron or Ignacio. She says she’s going back to the Hub to make sure Zelda’s transfer is complete and then she’s resigning. In my notes I write, hmmm probably not smart for her to return to the Hub, does not seem safe, it is a prison, just run for the hills Fiff!! But because we haven’t merged, Fiff cannot hear my thoughts. Anyway, she punches Lyle in the face so he’ll get out of the van and she drives back to the Hub where — as I expected! — Byron does not actually accept her resignation but instead sends her to the pasture cube.
Hazel gets home somehow but it takes her forever. She bursts in on Dad and Diane, who are sleeping soundly, and loses her shit. Wasn’t he worried about her?! He left her at the bowling alley 13 hours ago. I have to say that the rest of the Hazel stuff in this episode feels like everyone is saying the subtext out loud when it could be better expressed through story — plus, this is never stuff that people in families ever actually say to each other. Like, can you imagine a real person saying, “This is just like when I was a kid. You have never given a fuck about me … I have always been an afterthought to you.” People never just up and articulate the central theme of their lives like that!
Herb points out that Hazel’s been gone for ten years, so what’s a few hours? Hazel says that he checked out as soon as her mom died, and he’s all, “Oh, my life has to revolve around you just because you’re back?” Hazel switches over to: You treat the doll better than you have ever treated me. To underline this point, she attacks Diane, and Herb pushes Hazel off to protect the doll. Again, Hazel states one of the key themes of our program, which is: What kind of person is willing to run away with a sociopath forever? “Girls with shit fathers.”
In the morning, Herb introduces Hazel (cleverly, I must say) to a nun who is also outside the system. Hazel speaks to the nun through a makeshift confessional wall, so Hazel doesn’t see her face, which means Byron can’t see her face either. Smart! She also gives Hazel a fake name, and it’s … Judiff. Like Fiffany. I am LOSING IT.
See, Judiff and Herb used to date. Judiff thought Diane was a real person, but, as you might expect, she snoops around the house and finds out this is not the case. She’s actually very nice about this, considering she got dumped for a mannequin. Judiff’s whole thing is being “a bulldog who likes to sink her teeth into the ankles of corruption” (Hazel: “Cool”) who became a nun to infiltrate the church and expose its crimes, which were about the sort of crimes you’d expect them to be (tax evasion, abuse), which have technically been exposed already through more traditional means (e.g., journalism, whistleblowers), but good for you, Judiff.
Hazel explains her situation. Judiff doesn’t even know who Byron is, but she knows that what he did to Hazel was abuse. “He robbed you of your solitude.” Hazel is getting very emotional worrying about how Byron will ruin Judiff’s life, but Judiff isn’t concerned. She gets Hazel’s permission to act on her behalf and says they won’t speak to or see each other again until this is over. Hazel will just have to trust. In the meantime, Judiff says, do whatever you want to do. “If he wants to watch your every move, that doesn’t make him powerful, that makes him pathetic.” I like this perspective!
Hazel doesn’t even know what her life would look like if she could just do whatever she wanted to do outside of the Hub. Herb asks what she used to do for fun back in the day, and Hazel takes a six-pack to the cemetery. (This is what I mean about it all feeling kind of obvious. Drinking by the grave is such a go-to movie and TV trope! How common is this in real life, I wonder?) But it turns out the city wanted to make space for nicer graves so they paid to have some bodies moved, and Herb needed the money. So Hazel and Dad have another extremely Characters-in-a-TV-Show conversation — “I wasn’t there for you, and I know that I’m not always gonna be. Doesn’t mean I don’t care.” — and crack open some beers over the boy of Scooby “Dirtdog” Martinez, who died doing what he loved: getting his dick wet.
Meanwhile, over on fantasy beach, Byron decides, after having a complete meltdown over being bopped by a simulation volleyball exactly one (1) time, that he is ready to GO into the WORLD. Somebody is watching Byron as he gets his first parking ticket. Judiff already at work? Lyle? Some third party I am not yet considering? We’ll find out when the final two episodes drop next week!