In episode 5, Byron continues his attempts to burrow deeper into Hazel’s head, while Hazel meets with the lawyer Bangles recommended. We learn more about Fiffany’s work and background as she plots behind Byron’s back to save Zelda and the chip technology from his plan to merge with Hazel.
It’s the morning after episode 4 and when Herb wakes up, Diane isn’t in bed with him. He goes looking for her, since it’s not like her to get up without telling him. He finds her passed out in the living room with Hazel and Bangles, who invited her to join their party once Herb was asleep. No doubt she was happy to take advantage of a rare opportunity to party with the girls, away from her man’s judgmental eyes.
Sure enough, as soon as he finds them, he wakes all 3 women up and tells them they’re all too old to party like they’re in high school, then smells Diane’s breath to see if she’s been drinking and judges her for letting Bangles kiss her.
Isn’t Diane old enough to drink? Or is Herb robbing the
cradle plastics factory? And isn’t Herb and Diane’s relationship based on their mutual interest in sexual experimentation? Maybe they should ask Bangles if she’s interested in a threesome.
Just a thought.
Over breakfast, Bangles gives them the name of the lawyer she mentioned in episode 4. Hazel wants Bangles to say it in code, but Herb points out that Byron will be at the meeting with them, so they can’t keep it a secret for long anyway. The lawyer’s name is Biff Reidelsberger- giving him a name that’s a reference to Back to the Future buffoon villain Biff Tannen probably isn’t a sign of his competence and reliability.
But Herb knows Biff and says he’s good. Bangles says the government sued Biff for having a monopoly on illegal data mining and lost. Plus Biff got Bangles’ cousin off when he was high and peed all over an Applebees.
Biff seems capable of anything.
Herb decides it’s time to go. He brings out a box of Hazel’s old clothes for her to wear, so she can stop wearing his. Bangles says it’s time for her to go pick up her kid. Hazel is surprised, because Bangles said she had an abortion. Bangles says she got pregnant another time, by someone who wasn’t Jalapeno Dick, and kept that baby.
Hazel’s morning causes Byron distress, which means he doesn’t benefit from his time in the sensory cocoon the way he normally does. Bennett can’t talk him into taking off the VR headset and relaxing though.
Somewhere deep in the bowels of the Hub, Fiffany enters the cube of a reclusive developer named Remy, who questions why she’s there without the proper clearances. She hedges, then asks if he’s a fan of the comic book The Optimizer. He has Optimizer merch cluttering up his desk, so she already knows that he is.
Fiffany pulls out a first edition copy of an Optimizer comic book to distract Remy, then tases him into unconsciousness. She uses his hands and computer to find and gain access to Zelda’s tank. She tells Zelda that she understands that the dolphin was worried about Hazel, but it’s okay. Hazel made it out of the Hub because of Zelda’s help. Fiffany promises to get Zelda out. Then Herringbone calls and demands that she meet him right away.
As they enter the bowling alley where they’re meeting the lawyer, Hazel makes Herb promise not to mention Byron’s name until Biff agrees to represent her. When they’re introduced, Biff asks if Herb got the paperwork for his will and says he didn’t know Herb had a daughter- which would mean Hazel isn’t in Herb’s will.
Herb probably left everything to Diane.
Byron is out of the cocoon, but lying on the floor
waiting to spread his wings and still watching as Herb tells Biff that Hazel needs a divorce. Biff suggests they bowl a game while Hazel tells him her story. Byron doesn’t understand why she’s talking to a divorce lawyer. Bennett gently insists that Byron attend his scheduled meeting so he can approve the latest product video. Byron wears the VR headset to the meeting, while Bennett walks him there.
Now Byron’s only vision is Hazelvision, simultaneously reducing and expanding his world- he’s now the one who’s limited to the whims of another, which keeps him mostly in one small physical zone. But he’s also outside the Hub, possibly for the first time in ten years, experiencing a world he’s not familiar with. Even if he also comes from impoverished beginnings, he and Hazel aren’t the same person and he hasn’t shared her experiences of the world in a visceral way before.
While Fiffany waits on the side of the road, she remembers back to when she shared the results of her dolphin chip research with Byron. Fiffany meant for her research to be used to improve animal-human communications and to further understanding between humans and the natural world. Byron overruled her and decided to use it on people, quickly understanding that the chip could be used as a permanent lie detector, forcing honesty out of the person who had it implanted. He thought it was perfect for relationships- Made for Love. Fiffany has never accepted the way he hijacked her work.
Back in the present, Fiffany panics for a moment when several threatening looking black vehicles pull over, but it turns out to be Ignacio, her ex-husband, who she’s meeting. She thought he was coming alone.
Ignacio: “Never trust a beautiful woman saying all the right things. You taught me that.”
Then he has her searched.
She’s seen through Byron’s facade and realized that he’s a snake. She wants to go behind his back and sell Ignacio her chip technology instead, same deal as they’ve discussed in the past. Ignacio knows there’s more to the story than she’s telling him. She reveals that she’s close to achieving full communication with Zelda. She has a chance to get the chip away from Byron, but only if she acts immediately. Ignacio already knows what the chip is. Does he want it or not?
Ignacio is thrilled that Fiffany has finally accepted defeat. He takes her deal.
The defeat part isn’t explained- it’s implied that Fiffany left Ignacio over a difference in ethics concerning how they’d market the chip. Byron is so much worse than Ignacio that she’s willing to work for him again.
Biff isn’t a very creative thinker and has a hard time wrapping his mind around Hazel’s case. She sticks to her plan to refuse to name her husband until he’s accepted her case. But she also can’t point to any significant form of abuse that a man like Biff understands. Herb points out that Byron wouldn’t cheat, since he doesn’t have orgasms.
Herb doesn’t understand what the word privacy means, which partially explains how Hazel ended up in this predicament to begin with. But also, it’s important to clarify that Byron doesn’t have orgasms in Hazel’s presence- that doesn’t mean he’s not having any orgasms anywhere. His constant failure to orgasm with her could be seen as a sign of cheating. Where is he having his orgasms? Maybe he’s always had someone else on the side or some other outlet (hi Diane), so he never needed that from Hazel.
Byron doesn’t physically abuse Hazel, but he controls her schedule and diet, making sure she gets enough sleep, eats healthy foods and gets enough exercise- Biff sees this as things a caring spouse does and a small town judge would likely do the same. But once again, treating a spouse like they are a child who is a prisoner is a form of abuse. It’s subtle enough that almost no one will believe it’s controlling rather than caring, so it becomes a form of gaslighting which makes the abused spouse look insane to outsiders as well, thus giving the abuser a good reason to be controlling in the minds of others. It’s a diabolical method of taking over someone’s life which sets up a lose-lose scenario for the victim, since attempts to gain freedom only make things worse.
Of course Biff and Herb think Hazel’s life under Byron’s complete control sounds great. Biff says she moved out and forfeited her claim to the “house”, rather than escaping from a place she’d been trapped in for 10 years. Hazel gets angry and becomes more specific about Byron’s technology, complaining he wouldn’t let her have a sensor implant in her finger so she could move between cubes on her own, which made the home cube a de facto cell.
She tells Herb that this whole meeting is pointless anyway, with “him” watching. When Biff scoffs at her, she explains that her husband implanted a chip in her head, which only makes Biff think she’s insane and start mocking her, a reaction many women will relate to when it comes to stalking and sexual harassment.
Herb blames her for marrying a tech billionaire in the first place, telling her she should have known that Byron Gogol would turn out like this. Also a reaction most women have faced regarding harassment and assault by men. As if Herb wouldn’t have been thrilled to welcome Byron into the family if Byron had shared his fortune with his father in law.
But Biff is suddenly interested in Hazel’s case, now that he knows he’s not just dealing with Herb the Perv’s delusional daughter and there could be a giant pay off involved. He goes to the car to get his briefcase. Hazel tells Herb that he may have gotten Biff interested by mentioning Byron’s name, but he’s also gotten Byron to take the meeting seriously.
Bennett walks Byron into a lab cube that’s seems to be a mock clean room, but this is just a marketing meeting to show Byron a video about a new fireproof coating. Byron insists on keeping the VR glasses on throughout the meeting, so the marketing guys have to explain the video to him. His focus remains on Hazelvision instead of the presentation, as he makes repeated outbursts about his wife’s behavior.
Gonna guess it was the disclosure about his orgasm status that felt like a violation. Let’s recall that Hazel answered survey questions about her orgasms every morning, then Bennett went over Hazel’s orgasms with her if Byron had questions. That sort of invasion of privacy feels different when it’s done to you, instead of you doing it to someone else.
The marketing video shows a family driving home and finding their house burning down to the ground. The only things that survive are their Gogol devices that are coated in the new product. The family are happy because Gogol saved the day. Byron tells them to fast track it to market, then tells Bennett that Hazel is sharing too much with Biff- he needs to handle it. He walks into a wall on his way out.
Billy Magnussen and Cristin Milioti are both killing the physical comedy in this episode. Hazel was hilariously inept and almost violent with the bowling ball.
I love that the room full of men didn’t “see” anything wrong with that marketing strategy. Though this show gender swaps Hazel and Byron’s tastes and emotions at times, it also has a point to make about the socialization of men vs women. Actually, it probably gender swaps the two because it has a point to make- Hazel wasn’t properly socialized into typical, “appropriate” feminine behavior because her mother died when she was young and her father couldn’t be bothered. We don’t know what happened to Byron, but normal human culture is alien to him.
Biff and Herb both reassess Hazel after she tells them the chip in her head is worth $1 billion. Biff tells her not to let anyone near her head, because that’s her marital asset.
Finally, someone values her for what’s in her brain, instead of her looks.
She has to keep the chip in her brain until the divorce is final, possession being 9/10 of the law and all. The proceedings will probably drag out for a couple of years or so, based on the usual fights over dogs that Biff handles. In this calculation, Hazel’s brain= a dog.
Suddenly, I am very afraid of Hazel getting kidnapped for the chip. She needs a quality security detail, yesterday.
Hazel is not okay with keeping the chip in, since the lack of privacy and control is why she left Byron in the first place.
Biff: “But hey, look at the bright side- you basically have the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket in your brain… With the chip in… I mean without it, you’re worthless. The chip is our evidence of physical assault. So without it, we’re nowhere. We got no leverage. So to me, that chip is gold.”
Hazel- “Oh my God. I mean, if I’d known it was going to end up like this, I’d have stayed at the bottom of the pool.”
And there it is. Hazel is worthless. The only thing about her that matters is her connection to Byron. Break that connection and she’s nothing- no one will believe her story, she has no right to community property in the divorce or even to a share of the profits from the product that was developed by experimenting on her.
Herb picks up on the suicide reference, but now it’s time for Bennet and Byron to weigh in on the discussion. The main lights go out in the bowling alley and colored disco lights turn on. The score monitors over each alley show photos of Biff having fun with sex workers. Biff screams for everyone to stop looking at his exposed body in the photos. Then it all stops and the Shangri-Lanes phone rings- it’s for Biff. Hazel asks Biff not to talk to Byron, or actually Bennett, but of course he does. Bennett says one line to Biff, then Biff leaves the building, almost forgetting to remove his rented bowling shoes first.
Bennett lets Byron know that he’s sorted out the Hazel/lawyer situation. Byron is depressed because Hazel said she’d rather be dead than married to him and living in the Hub.
Byron: “The life she lives out there, that’s death. So I’m going to give her life. I’m going to make you happy again, Noodle. It’s time to merge.”
In Byron’s world, only what goes on inside his head is real. The Hub is his mind, made manifest, as if he is a god, so he can tolerate also thinking of it as real. Anyplace that he can’t completely control is too scary, like a nightmare world- houses burning to the ground and cars blowing up. He is the ultimate narcissist.
Fiffany’s next stop is the campground where Lyle has gone all Nomadland. Byron did a total identity wipe on him, so all he has left are a few tracksuits he borrowed from a fellow camper and his little 3-wheeled electric car. And his fingers in a cooler, but the less said about that the better.
Fiffany lets him know that Byron has ordered him sent to the Pasture cube, the place they send people to get “lost” forever. She goes on to tell him that Byron plans to merge with Hazel, which Lyle already knows will kill her. Fiffany has a mobile tech suite in the van that will allow her to remove the chip from Hazel’s head reasonably safely, if Lyle can disrupt the signal long enough for her to do it.
Lyle says he can disrupt the feed for about an hour, but wonders why she’s doing this. He guesses that she must have a buyer and cajoles her into admitting that it’s Ignacio. She assures him that he’ll still get his 50% cut, but Lyle is shocked that she’d work with her ex-husband again. It sounds like there are some skeletons with very questionable morals in that closet.
Bennett texts Fiffany that Byron wants to start the merge now. They have to get the chip out of Hazel right away.
On their way out of the bowling alley, Herb points out a help wanted sign, suggesting Hazel apply for a job there. She’s not interested. Then he asks her if what she said about the pool was a euphemism. It wasn’t, but he doesn’t want the truth, so she tells him what he wants to hear.
Hazel: “I thought if I escaped, I’d get to start over, you know?”
Herb: “No such thing as starting over, okay? It’s a fantasy. But there’s moving forward. It’s okay to get a life.”
I agree with him- no matter where you go, there you are. You can’t erase or change the past, all you can do is keep going and try to do better next time.
Hazel wasn’t exactly dreaming of a life in her hometown when she bolted toward freedom. Herb points out that it’s what she’s got while she explores her options. Might as well make the best of it.
He tells her he’s ready to go home and take his socks off. She decides to walk home, since taking a walk outside is something she never got to do in the Hub. He tells her to be careful. Then he stops to rub his kidneys in pain. She asks if he’s okay and he says he’s great, since she’s home.
Bennett is nervous about performing chip surgery on Byron, but all he actually has to do is shave Byron’s head. Automatic surgical arms will do the rest. Bennett runs from the room while they work.
Hazel walks home through empty desert while Byron has chip surgery. When the merge happens, she hears a high pitched whine, feels a searing pain in her head, then passes out in the street.
Fiffany and Lyle pull up just after she’s collapsed and realize what happened. They apologize to what they assume is her dead body, then collect her so they can remove the chip.
Byron wakes up from surgery and laughs maniacally.
Last episode had subtle Dr Who references, this episode has subtle Back to the Future references. Fiffany is highlighted as a quirky, mysterious but likable mad scientist of dubious morals who’s mainly looking for someone to finance her, but who is also loyal, if a bit careless toward, her pet
dog dolphin and the few people she still trusts after being burned in the past. That’s how Doc Brown is portrayed in the original Back to the Future film. The Doc Brown of the 1950s has to be persuaded to care about saving Marty, just as Fiffany is more interested in the chip than Hazel, but does the right thing in the end.
In the first Back to the Future, Marty is a fish out of water who’s completely on his own, since he’s sent from the 1980s to the 1950s. Hazel returns to the world after being in the Hub for 10 years. In this episode, she has to act normal and competent for a stranger, Biff, for the first time since she’s been back, in the bastion of normalcy, a bowling alley, and she fails miserably. That’s partly thanks to Byron’s interference, but she was pretty weird with the bowling ball, too.
In a Pleasantville reference*, the bowling alley replaces Marty’s school as the social institution that shows Biff is both completely normal and also not- why is he there during the middle of the day, if he’s such a successful lawyer? Obviously the photos show he likes to play, a lot, too, just like Biff Tannen.
Marty’s school revealed that the older generations, in the form of Biff, Principal Strickland and Marty’s parents, were all hypocrites and weird in an era of conformity. The bowling alley reveals the same thing about whatever institutional help Hazel may have been hoping for. No one in the bowling alley has a strong reaction to the blackmail photos when they flash on several screens- the owner is more concerned that Biff doesn’t steal his bowling shoes.
The strip club Hazel stopped in when she escaped the Hub started with live humans, but emptied out within a couple of minutes and began showing stripper videos, as if Byron’s people evacuated the building. The two events combined suggest a high level of corruption in Hazel’s society, which Byron promotes and exploits in order to make it easier for him to get his way when someone resists.
Byron is almost too sinister to be part of the Back to the Future universe. He seems like part of something more controlling, like The Matrix or The Wizard of Oz. The only place he fits is as alternate timeline Biff, creator of Biff’s World. Maybe the Hub has taken over the entire world and Hazel never escaped- she just took whatever pill made her think she did.
There was a little musical flourish that was used quite a bit in this episode that was very similar to the Syfy show Eureka’s theme song. It drove me crazy, thinking for a second I was suddenly watching Eureka or a crossover. Actually, this could be a crossover. If Byron grew up in Eureka, it would explain everything. Possibly it’s another homage to Made for Love’s influences and/or an indication of it’s future. Eureka took place in a small, secret company town owned by a single tech corporation. In order to keep Hazel happy, Byron and the Hub may swallow up Hazel’s hometown, then remake it in his own image- Biff’s World, I mean, Byron’s World.
Hazel and Herb should learn finger spelling so that at least she could communicate to Herb with her hand outside of her visual field. Herb might have to spell back to her in her hand, the way Annie Sullivan did to Helen Keller, to avoid having her eyes or ears involved. Maybe she can learn to read Braille while she has the chip implant.
Watching Byron’s staff as they work in their huge offices reminds me that the Hub and its cubes™️ are meant to satirize modern offices with their tiny cubes, low walls and lack of privacy, offset by the trend in modern tech/software companies to pretend the office is also a place for relaxation and play, so that you never have to leave.
Watching Fiffany and Remy in their offices, which look spacious but are also empty, makes me wonder how big they actually are. They could be the same size as Byron’s “restaurant in Rome” truck trailer cube, or even smaller. Gogol Cube technology seems to be able to shift perspectives so that it looks and feels like one is moving through space, much like the Star Trek holodecks, even though in reality you haven’t moved more than a few feet, if at all. The plain office cubes all have grids on the walls like the Trek holodecks do when they’re turned off, suggesting any of them could be turned on and project anyplace Byron wants.
*I appreciate the deep-cut Pleasantville related joke that they, in fact, weren’t safe in a bowling alley, a joke we’ve been making in my house since that film was released in 1998. If the joke was accidental, even better- the bowling alley remains a timeless bastion of traditional male safety and culture, which Bennett and Byron breached with their alien uber tech bro money and culture. But the one thing all of the men have in common is that it’s very upsetting when women start acting unpredictably. Hence, Diane.
“Well, we’re safe for now. Thank goodness we’re in a bowling alley.”
“My friends, this isn’t about George’s dinner or Roy’s shirt. It’s a question of values. It’s a question of whether we want to hold onto those values that made this place great. So, a time has come to make a decision. Are we in this thing alone, or are we in it together?”
Images courtesy of HBOMax.