Hazel and Byron meet in a remote diner to discuss their relationship. They show each other how much they’ve changed since they’ve been separated and what they want for the future. Judiff and Herb attempt to listen in from the parking lot, with mixed results.
Hazel takes a bus to meet Byron at a diner in an undisclosed location in the desert where the press won’t be able to find them.
Hazel takes a bus to meet Byron at a diner in an undisclosed location in the desert where the press won’t be able to find them. As voice over, we hear the phone conversation where they negotiate the terms of the meeting. Hazel refuses to go to the Hub and wants to meet in public, but Byron wants to avoid being recognized, so they settle on the Sunrise Diner, which Hazel suggests.
Byron is already seated in a booth waiting for her when she arrives with the divorce papers held out in front of her like a shield. He said on the phone that he’d give her a divorce if that’s what she really wants, but in exchange he wants to have a face to face, candid conversation.
I doubt that he’s ever fully opened himself up to her in a conversation.
But First, A Trip in the WayBack Machine…
Let’s recall what Byron said to Hazel the first time they met and during their first date, before assuming that Byron is just going to get a few things off his chest, then let her move on with her life.
When Byron approached Hazel for the first time on the street, he chose the time and place. That ensured that her first introduction to him happened when he had all the power, including the power to have her arrested. She was even crouching down on the ground, while he was standing, so he appeared larger than life. He was about to give a talk at her college, based on his fabulous wealth and rise to fame and fortune as a tech mogul. Meanwhile, she was a petty con artist and poor student who lived in a trailer with her alcoholic father.
Byron staged the meet cute to make himself seem like a generous Prince Charming who was smitten with this modern day Cinderella and simply wanted to whisk her away from all of her troubles.
On the street and on the date, he told her that they were similar creatures, essentially con artists, who understood how to recognize opportunity and build on human desire in order to get what they want out of a situation. This is a definition of narcissism, but he presents these as being two of the qualities possessed by successful geniuses, since for Byron this encounter is ultimately about capitalism and winning, not romance.
Byron creates what he wants, rather than depending on nature and serendipity to put the right person (or place or opportunity) in his path. As the title of the series suggests, romantic love isn’t something he understands. Hazel, as she is when he meets her, is his unformed clay, his rib, who he will then bring into his workshop, the Hub, to finish forming into the person he wants her to be, based on his needs and desires. Within the Hub, he’s already created the entire rest of his world, just like a God. He’ll create his Eve by taking a naive, poor, young woman and transforming her into his mature, sophisticated, cultured wife.
Ten years ago, he watched Hazel for a while before he introduced himself to her. He already knew everything about her that he could dig up with all of his resources, including that she is a very adaptable survivor, since she’d had to fend for herself starting when she was very young. He went into the date fully armed with information, while she blindly walked into a fully sealed pod that was owned and operated by him, after he’d led her to believe that she was flying to Rome to go to dinner in a restaurant.
Byron dazzled her with the flexibility of the cube and its ability to make you believe you’ve travelled all over the world, without the hassle of actually going out into the world. At the time, she was young and had never left her hometown. She was too naive to pick up on the differences between real world travel and simulated travel, the way the reporter did when Byron recreated his favorite beach. Then he electronically deposited a million dollars into the bank account of a girl who’d always been poor. This important man devoted his complete attention to her, the girl with the dead mother and the father who barely bothered.
Since her father had trained her to move on from disappointment with minimal complaining and instead make the best of a situation, Hazel quickly got over the fact that he misled her about Rome. She followed Byron’s lead in enthusing about the capabilities of his technology, which in reality isn’t that much better than watching a film about a place, when you think about it. Surround TV would be cool, but it wouldn’t mean you’ve been there.
By the end of the evening, Byron convinced Hazel that marriage to him would be an exciting, practically risk-free adventure, but in order to win the prize she had to sign on the dotted line right that minute, because the opportunity wouldn’t last. It was a time compressed, tour de force performance, typical of the way a narcissist or a con artist draws someone in and gets them to sign their life away before they understand what they’ve done or who the other person really is. Byron didn’t even eat during their dinner. He certainly didn’t reveal anything personal about himself or take any emotional risks. This was a business meeting for him.
And in reality, their marriage has proceeded in exactly the way that their first date did, so in some ways Hazel didn’t get conned- she got what she was offered. Except that she didn’t have time to think through her decision and whether she wanted what was on offer. She didn’t realize that she’d never be able to make anything more than the simplest choices, as if she were a child. Or that she’d never leave the cube again. Or that Byron would never give her anymore emotional intimacy than what he’d shared that night.
She didn’t understand that she’d become Byron’s canary in a gilded cage, so well guarded that only a special few got to even see her.
Byron spotted her desire accurately- after the precariousness of her childhood, she wanted safety and financial security. But ten years later, Hazel has now had enough of security and safety. She’s played out her childhood insecurities. During her separation from Byron, she’s confronted her issues with her father. She’s ready to be an adult and let her father be a flawed human being. She’s more than ready for a man who’s a full partner to her.
Byron hasn’t changed or grown, except for maybe becoming more narcissistic and controlling. And desperate. I’m not sure if his feelings for her at this point are just possessive or are actually love, but he’s grown more desperate to keep her, as she’s grown more desperate to be her own person again.
This episode is called Let’s Meet because in some ways, it’s a repeat of their first date, but Hazel has more power and information this time. Unfortunately, thanks to Herb, she still doesn’t have all of the necessary information.
When Byron sees Hazel, he stands up and moves toward her for a hug, but she tells him to back off. He greets her, calling her Noodle, his pet name for her, and she reminds him, again, not to call her that. He says hello again, calling her Hazel this time. She asks him where the Hazelcam is. He says he hasn’t watched her feed in days. She’s interested in this development, but then decides it doesn’t matter. She takes out the divorce papers and begins initialing all of the clauses.
Byron is stretching the truth already, since Bennett has been watching the Hazelcam feed and reporting to Byron. Is the rest of Byron’s sincere humility an act or real? Or a little of both? My guess is both.
Herb sits on the couch with Diane, working on the newspaper crossword puzzle. He chats with her about the puzzle clues. You have to wonder if she’s much help. Then again, the first clue is “four letters, half man, half goat”. Herb looks at his sex doll for the answer (Puck).
I haven’t praised this show enough for it’s sly sense of humor.
Judiff bangs on Herb’s door frantically and let’s herself in with the spare key when he doesn’t answer right away. She tells him about Hazel’s meeting with Byron. Herb assures her that it’s okay, since Byron served Hazel with divorce papers. He says they don’t need Judiff’s help anymore and wonders how she knew about the meeting. Judiff reminds him that she bugged the trailer. Unfortunately, she’d already gone to bed when Hazel talked to Byron, so she didn’t find out about the meeting until this morning. Hazel left hours ago. Herb thinks things are fine with Hazel- after all, she’s been taking care of herself (and him) since she was a little girl.
It seems weird that Herb forgot that Judiff bugged the house. Is Byron drugging him or was he just more worried about Judiff trying to date him again than her current investigation when he went to her house?
Judiff tells Herb that this isn’t over. They need to follow Hazel right now, since Byron only does things that are in his own self interest. She reminds him that Hazel went on one date with Byron, then disappeared into the Hub for 10 years. Herb realizes she’s right.
Byron tells Hazel about all of the normal people places he’s visited recently, like grocery stores and coffee shops. He asks what she’s been up to. She tells him she flew a plane- she just went up in the air, then back to the ground, but it felt great.
He tries to look surprised. Byron acts impressed and supportive. Hazel gets a little angry and asks how it feels, to have her tell him about her day, instead of him spying on her. He says it feels nice, but he says it like a question. He watches her face, then repeats it with more confidence. Hazel tells him, “That’s how relationships are supposed to function.”
Byron starts to tell her that he’s changed, but they’re interrupted by the waitress, who wants to take their orders. Hazel asks for coffee. Byron asks for the Big Boy Burger, but he didn’t pay close attention to the menu, so he’s not prepared for the overwhelming number of choices for sides and tells her to bring all of them.
To be fair, we’ve all been ambushed by an unexpected combo platter when we just wanted a burger.
Once the waitress, and then the unexpected busboy, clear out, Byron returns to his overarching theme of “I’ve changed.” He turns up the charm all the way. Hazel even insult-flirts a little, which mostly serves to show how much she’s matured since their first date and Byron hasn’t. She’s no longer starstruck, but he’s still trying to impress her with one liners. They’ve been married for 10 years and should be having a real conversation about their shared life and what they need to change together. But since he never shared his life and responsibilities with her, they have nothing to talk about regarding improving their relationship except Hazel’s complaints.
Unless Byron is finally ready to open up. Like a Big Boy.
Judiff and Herb drive to the diner, then Judiff bugs the ketchup that’s meant for Hazel and Byron’s table. When she gets back to the car, she apologizes to Herb for attempting to interfere with his medical plans when he visited her at home. She admits that it’s up to him to decide how to handle his illness.
The ketchup bug comes online and they listen in as Hazel tells Byron that his attempts at normalcy are too trivial to matter. Byron confesses that he didn’t build the Hub to hide from reality, but then he spent so long inside that he became afraid of the outside world. He’s working his way past that. Hazel asks if he plans to leave the Hub. Byron says that he could if he wanted to. But he wants her to admit that there are ways that life in the Hub is better, even though she felt stifled there.
Byron: “These people are prisoners to life’s variables. We don’t have those inconveniences in the Hub.”
Byron may be able to hire staff to deal with his everyday troubles, but we’ve watched him deal with a whole lot of staff issues. And there are still “variables” and maintenance issues to cope with in the Hub, besides all of the hassles that you have to take care of yourself, like health issues..
Hazel: “Do you realize that you’re just listing stuff that poor people have to deal with?”
As I said, plumbing issues don’t discriminate based on wealth- even brand new construction fails or floods at times. With money, you can hopefully find someone to fix it quickly. That’s Byron’s point. The Hub is symbolic of a gated community or a condo with a maintenance team on staff, where the riffraff theoretically aren’t allowed in to disturb the experience.
It’s not a perfect metaphor, since Byron is a recluse who built his own compound. A shared community of entitled residents virtually always argues about rules and behavior standards. Not many communities would be okay with all of Byron’s behavior, such as owning and abusing dozens of pet dolphins, but they’d also have kids and hobbies of their own that were loud, unsightly and/or destructive to argue over.
Hazel isn’t interested in Byron’s elitism. She tells him she’s still glad she got out and hands him the divorce papers and pen to sign. Byron starts to lose his composure. He asks her to let him explain what’s going on. He’ll give her the divorce if she’s opposed to marriage. But he’s interrupted by the guy at the table behind him, who asks to borrow their ketchup. Byron hands it over. Then he begs her to come back.
Byron: “Please come back. I know what life with me at the Hub should have been like from the start now. Please just give me a chance to prove it.”
There it is. The words Hazel wanted to hear, though she’d never admit it- Byron’s equivalent to “I was wrong from the start.” Now the real conversation begins. The thing is, Byron didn’t forgive Lyle when he said the things Byron wanted to hear. What did it take for Byron to say those words to Hazel and how much will he eventually make her pay for it?
In Judiff’s car, the voice on the speaker changes to a woman talking about the elephant in the room. Now that the ketchup bottle has changed tables, they’re hearing a different conversation. Judiff moves to go put the ketchup bottle back, but Herb wants to hear the end of the new conversation. Judiff leaves to rescue Herb’s daughter, despite his lack of interest in her situation.
Byron promises Hazel that if she returns to the Hub, there’ll be no more routine surveillance, other than security. He’ll get rid of the
Mother Hens roosters. And the sex reviews. He makes the mistake of saying he’s collected enough data in that department anyway. Hazel calls him on it and he agrees that he’ll stop collecting data on her sex life, because he agrees it’s wrong.
.. said with his fingers crossed behind his back.
He promises to let her have an equal say in the design of the Hub. She won’t be forced to coordinate her outfits and nail polish with the furniture anymore, as if she’s just another part of the room decor. She demands that he (by way of the Hub) also stop monitoring and censoring what she eats, reads, watches and listens to. He agrees to those terms, but he still won’t let her have a pet. She moves on to saying she wants an unrestricted cell phone, freedom to leave the Hub at any time and to have the chip removed from her brain.
Byron agrees to her demands, especially to removing the chip. He’s realized that his overall concept for Made for Love was wrong. Hazel wants him to admit that he was wrong to implant it and that the constant surveillance was illegal and immoral. He admits it, but he does feel that having the chip in only one partner, instead of two, which was his original concept, was effective. He’s realized that the chip would work better as wearable, disposable tech that’s used for a short time when couples are having difficulties.
Hazel: “You think that all of this was just a rough patch?”
Byron tries to deny that he thinks of their separation that way, but he gets distracted because Rough Patch is such a great name for the product. He ends up telling her that he needs her back with him because she’s his muse- He’s objectifying her while taking credit for her creativity once again.
Judiff stakes out the dumpster so she can nab the the busboy she bribed earlier, then try to convince him to put the ketchup back on Byron and Hazel’s table. He’s not terribly helpful, but she scares him into cooperating.
Back inside, Hazel tells Byron to describe, in detail, how he’s changed.
Byron: “Ever, ever since I started watching you when you went out here, I didn’t understand why you would trade our life for this. But I get it now. It’s about choice. And I don’t want to control you. I want to give up control. Just being out here, exposed, it’s… Something’s changed in me.”
Hazel nods in agreement to what he says, then tells him to keep going. He says he wants to be vulnerable for her. She doubts him, since he’s practiced “performance celibacy” for ten years in order to avoid “emotional flooding”. He refused to have sex with her because he was afraid the extreme feelings it created it would block his concentration. He can’t afford to be distracted or lose focus because of
his feelings for her pleasure.
He brings up that he still took care of her needs, but Hazel says those sessions were torture, because she had to be vulnerable and exposed in front of him, but he remained an emotional brick wall.
Hazel: “That system was built for you.”
Byron: “Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry.”
Byron says he wishes they could start over. Hazel tells him to pretend they’re meeting for the first time and just be himself- no manipulations. They introduce themselves. Byron stops and reintroduces himself as Greg Benson, from Dutton, Montana. He says that he had his identity wiped, so no one knows who he really is. He’s uncomfortable talking about this in public and wants to leave, but Hazel says no.
She asks about his family and he tells her that his father is a mailman. His mother took off with his brother when he was 8 years old. He thinks she’s dead. Lyle paid off his brother a few years ago.
Hazel asks what he’s afraid of. He says “losing you”, but she doesn’t believe him. He digs deeper and says “being alone.” She asks what excites him and he says she doesn’t want to know. Hazel tells him to answer anyway. They are both clearly affected by this conversation. He says he’s excited by watching her.
It’s probably the truth- their relationship started when he fell in love with her by watching her from a distance, before he ever spoke to her.
Some part of him is still scared she’ll reject the real him, so instead he remains the distant conquerer. It probably has something to do with the story of his mother leaving him behind but taking his brother with her.
Hazel asks why he picked her. He starts to say, “Because you were a challenge I knew I could wi…” But he’s interrupted by an inconvenient bout of pleasurable emotional flooding for the first time in ten years.
Just What Are These Two Looking For?
Guess all it takes is the barest semblance of a little dirty talk when you’ve held back for that long.
But I’m a little skeptical about Byron’s sincerity here. Remember that time, early in the season, when Hazel sniffed out Liver the bartender as he was making beer outside his trailer and talked him through pleasuring himself in front of her, even though they were strangers? And Byron watched on the Hazelcam?
There were some distinct similarities between that scenario and this one. It feels like maybe Byron was trying to fulfill that sexual fantasy for her again, in order to prove that he could meet her sexual needs. Byron showed he could be spontaneous and vulnerable to her in public, including having an orgasm while she was in charge and they were pretending to be strangers.
But this fantasy still didn’t involve penetration or even touching, so was it really Hazel’s sexual fantasy or was it just meant to spite Byron, as it appeared at first? Byron and Bennett probably noticed that she didn’t sleep with anyone else while they were separated, even though she said hadn’t had satisfying sex for ten years and she now had opportunities to cheat. But she did bring other people to Byron’s attention sexually using Hazelvision/the chip, from Liver to Bangles to Jay.
Hazel had mostly lost interest in the game by the time Jay showed up, which helps explain Byron’s desperation. She’d renewed her initial focus on escape through flying the plane instead of seeking out sexual gratification for herself or to make him jealous. (She’d been preparing to pilot the plane using a flight training game while she was still in the Hub.)
Maybe 10 years of solo performative orgasms has left her a little turned off toward losing control during sex for the moment. She’s angry with Byron, but still emotionally revolving around him rather than looking outward toward building a new life.
Byron’s focus on that particular fantasy makes me wonder if he’d also prefer to watch her with someone else instead of being a participant. (Where’s Bennett when you need him?) But that would just be more performance for Hazel, so probably not going to happen right now.
Or maybe they both just want to watch each other in private for now, so the performative aspect is limited and equal. The key seems to be that they need/want to take turns controlling each other’s experience. Byron appears to be ready to try that, in the limited way Hazel showed him, where he’s still mostly in charge of his own body, but can choose to follow her instructions because it’s exciting and he’s learning to trust her.
Hazel is thrilled that Byron let go in a public place. She bursts out laughing and gives him a slow clap. Then she asks him to rate his orgasm. He tells her to stop teasing him and says he wants to go home. She says she is home and gives him the pen so he can finish signing the papers.
Byron signs, but then says he’s surprised. He thought she’d bring Herb to the Hub with her so they could save him.
Byron has tried playing nice. It’s time to pull out the ace up his sleeve.
But this is also a reminder that Hazel doesn’t want to be alone either, and her father, the person she’s choosing to depend on instead of Byron, doesn’t have a track record of treating her well. Plus, there’s the reality that children usually outlive their parents.
Hazel asks what he means. He acts surprised that she doesn’t know the truth, even after living with her dad for weeks, then tells her about Herb’s pancreatic cancer. “He has a year, if lucky.”
Hazel thinks he’s lying. He pulls out Herb’ medical records as proof.
Medical records are private in the US, by the way. He shouldn’t have been able to access them, but of course he’s Byron Gogol and he owns the internet.
Byron: “If you come back to the Hub with your Dad, I’m confident we can save him. We have some of the best medical resources. Out here, he won’t stand a chance.”
Hazel: “I’d rather let him die.”
Byron: “I don’t believe you.”
Judiff restored the ketchup bug around the time of Byron’s sexual awakening, so she and Herb hear the entire cancer exchange. Herb tries to put a good face on it and say that Hazel is being smart about taking care of herself rather than saving him, but it’s clear that he’s hurt. He tells Judiff they should leave and let Hazel and Byron work out the rest on their own. Judiff is so thrown by her own feelings that she gives in, saying she’s already recorded enough to incriminate Byron.
Hazel gets home late that night and finds Herb asleep on the couch in the dark. He wakes up when she turns on the light, saying he must have accidentally fallen asleep. Diane is nowhere to be seen.
Hazel thought he’d be in bed already. He was really out cold and it takes him a minute to wake up. Come to think of it, he does sleep a lot, no matter what’s going on, probably one of the signs that his illness is affecting him and maybe a side affect of taking so many opioids to mask the symptoms. The signs that something is going on with Herb’s health have been there all along, but Hazel has been too involved with getting her own issues under control to notice until now.
(This is not criticism. People are generally too caught up in their own lives to recognize or remember the signs of invisible illness and disability, sometimes even after knowing someone for years or a lifetime. Hazel has some legitimate stuff going on right now, so she gets a pass.)
He still tells her that he’s fine when she asks, then changes the subject to her meeting with “what’s his name”. They decide to celebrate that Byron signed the divorce papers, so Hazel gets them each a beer. They toast to the first day of the rest of her life. Herb drinks, Hazel doesn’t.
Hazel brings up Herb’s cancer, but Herb says Byron doesn’t know what he’s talking about. End of discussion, as far as he’s concerned.
Hazel gives up on that and they decide to watch something on TV. After a minute, Herb says, “You got away. You did it. I’m proud of you.”
I can almost guarantee you that he’s never sincerely said the words “I’m proud of you” to her before and that it meant everything to hear him say them to her. She gets a sad smile and tells him “Thanks, Dad.”
Between successfully leaving her father 10 years ago, then leaving Byron, then gaining her father’s approval while having Byron still want her back, Hazel has won this round of the perpetual emotional tug of war she’s in with these two withholding, controlling men. She’s accomplished what she set out to do when Zelda showed her the escape hatch in the pool, which closes a chapter in her mind. This allows her to move forward and make decisions for the next phase of her life based on her own needs, opportunities and desires, without feeling like she’s given in to either her father or Byron. Thematically, season 1 ends here.
Jump to the next morning, when Herb, Hazel and Diane are having breakfast.
Hazel: “I’m jealous of Diane… She’s got flawless skin. No weight fluctuations. She never had to cook. She never has to worry about money. She’s got a pretty easy life, you know?”
Herb: “Yeah, kind of like what you had with Byron.”
Hazel: “Yeah, my gosh. Diane, no matter what he tells you, do not sign a prenup, and one day, all this can be yours.”
Herb chuckles along and tells Diane that Hazel is right.
Once again, the similarities between Diane and Hazel are brought up, but this time Hazel thinks about the positive side to being a trophy wife. Now that she’s had time to think through her life with Byron and realistically compare it to life on the outside, knowing she can make her own decisions, in her own time, rather than being pushed to jump into something too quickly (Herb’s health status notwithstanding), life as Mrs Gogol isn’t looking so bad- as long as Byron follows through with his side of the deal.
It’s important to note that Hazel and Byron spent hours in the diner negotiating changes to their lifestyle and marriage, which also shows that Byron is willing to do his share of the work on the relationship now, instead of making Bennett do it for him. Byron almost lost Hazel and had to admit to her and himself that she’s more than just a toy to him. He also had to prove the practical value of his wealth by showing her it could save her father’s life, rather than just hold her prisoner. That’s no small consideration, since in the US, when medical disaster strikes, typically only the wealthy are able to survive financially.
Judiff repeatedly listens to a segment of her latest recording of Hazel, until she’s sure it says what she thinks it says- “We’re ready.” Then Judiff panics because she understands the implications. She drives out to Herb’s trailer, but she’s too late. It’s completely empty.
After breakfast, Hazel says she’s going out for a long walk. Herb tells her not to be offended if she’s gone for a while and he falls asleep. It’s not that he doesn’t worry about her. It’s just that he gets tired.
Hazel gets it now- he’s exhausted all the time because of his illness. She exits the trailer with a serious look on her face, leaving Herb’s Hub cube through a portal.
Flashback to the diner. As she’s about to leave, Byron gives her a vial of medication, in case she changes her mind. Later she used it to spike Herb’s celebratory beer so that he stayed asleep while his entire compound was moved to the Hub and recreated before he woke up.
Hazel steps through the portal, into her old home cube, where Byron is waiting right there for her. He greets her, but otherwise hangs back to let her lead. She tells him there’s a panel flickering in Herb’s sky that needs to get fixed right away. They walk toward the house together. After a second, she takes his hand.
As they pass Zelda happily swimming in her pool, Byron puts his arm around Hazel’s shoulders.
Made for Love has already been renewed for season 2.
Hazel’s return to Byron doesn’t negate the fact that she was abused by him for ten years. Wealth doesn’t stop substance abuse or sexual assault or terminal illness or death or a whole host of other ills. It can help fight those things or it can help powerful people get away with their crimes. This time, Hazel went back to Byron with her eyes open. It’s not clear whether they filed the divorce papers and she signed a new prenup overnight or they tore up the divorce papers and she was talking about her original agreement, but she’s not pretending to be part of a perfect couple anymore.
Byron still has Fiffany and Lyle in the pasture , while Bennett has been conspicuously absent since he put Lyle in the cube. Did Byron decide Bennett knows too much? Did Bennett decide to escape before it’s his turn for the pasture? Or is Bennett still watching the Hazelcam somewhere in a backroom and reporting to Byron?
Season 2 will begin with Hazel as a second Byron, holding her dad hostage, while Byron has Fiffany and Lyle as his new Hazels to toy with. Zelda still feels like a freedom fighter- it’ll be interesting to see how they incorporate the dolphins and the Made for Love chips next season. Maybe Fiffany will be allowed to continue her research, but she’ll have to be chipped to ascertain her loyalty. Maybe Herb will need to be chipped so they can monitor his health status. Maybe Lyle will be allowed out of the pasture when Hazel convinces Byron it’s cruel and unusual punishment, but they’ll put him on house arrest and chip him in lieu of an ankle monitor. Hopefully Gogol’s medical tech and its implications will be explored further. Home brain surgery by the pool, performed by robots, is just a terrible idea.
At least Byron and Hazel can work together as a team next season, instead of being adversaries. Unless Hazel discovers that she’s essentially a mob wife and gets upset again. This season, she realized she had the capacity to be one of the 1%. Next season, will she explore just how much power she’s willing to wield over Byron, the Gogol corporate empire and maybe even beyond that?
Judiff is still on the case- will she keep going to an unwanted extreme, since Hazel chose her fate and Herb probably wants to be saved, or will she uncover an even deeper conspiracy? Will she assume Hazel and Herb were kidnapped or brainwashed? Did Byron show Hazel any evidence that he has a miracle cure for pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly cancers and the one that killed Steve Jobs? Maybe he lied to get her back in the Hub and eventually he’ll tell her the cure didn’t work out after all.
Byron’s treatment for Herb’s illness will likely be a proprietary, ongoing series, not a single course cure, since that’s where the real money is. Plus, if Byron thinks his hold over Hazel depends on treating Herb, then Herb will need to be treated for the rest of his life. There are plenty of real world illnesses that keep patients on the hook for lifelong, expensive treatments (some cost $10k a month).
There’s a good chance that Herb refused chemo because he couldn’t pay for it and he didn’t have anyone to live for anyway. As of this writing, Ray Romano is 63, still 2 years too young for even partially subsidized government healthcare in the US. To go on Medicaid, government healthcare for the disabled and poor, he’d have to give up his trailer and any other assets, hire a lawyer to shepherd his application through the system, and it would still take at least a year to get approval, if he was accepted. He’d likely be dead before Medicaid finished with his application.
It’s not clear what Hazel or Herb plan to do about their lack of communication about his cancer. If he only has a year left, he won’t be able to mask his symptoms much longer. And now that she’s moved him into the Hub so he can start treatments, you’d think he’d notice that he’s taking medication or getting radiation treatments or whatever. He’s already beginning to notice the differences, like the improved quality of the food. But maybe the miracle cure will be mixed with his food and he’ll think he spontaneously went into remission.
Or maybe he and Byron are in cahoots on this whole thing already. They had a private conversation early in the season when Byron could have proposed a deal to Herb- secretly push Hazel back toward Byron and Byron will save his life. Herb has mainly been a secretive character who follows his own self-interest while getting away with hurting people because he’s charismatic, the typical profile for a functional alcoholic.
If this were a true story, I’d assume he betrayed Hazel, or at least tried to convince himself he was helping her while also getting a cure for himself. Since it’s fictional, it’s hard to tell what direction the writers will take with Herb. They may decide he’s suddenly grown a heart of gold in his old age, something that rarely actually happens. More frequently, old men decide to hedge their bets before they meet their makers, so they become performative good guys.
For some reason, many think that repairing a relationship not long before death will work the same way a death bed conversion is supposed to work, and that it should be good enough for God (and their relatives) to forgive them their sins. I don’t think Herb cares about God, but I think he could care about how he tallies up his internal ledger at the end of his life. When all is said and done, if he can say he made sure his daughter was safely married off to a billionaire, no one will remember him as a terrible father.
False Dilemmas and Loyalty Tests
Byron is all about the false dichotomies, especially presented as loyalty tests people don’t know they’re taking. Hazel is a challenge to Byron, but unlike Fiffany and Lyle, she never truly betrays him. She has needs of her own that aren’t being fulfilled and she finally reaches the point of escape or die in her need to have them met. That’s where the pilot begins.
While she’s out in the world, Hazel never throws Byron under the bus by revealing unforgivable information about their marriage or trying to sell corporate secrets, two options for making money and gaining attention that are open to her which we see others use or encourage her to use. She maintains her integrity and the integrity of her marriage by only speaking about the abuses that could apply to any marriage with the lawyer and withholding Byron’s name (Herb revealed his name).
She also keeps her social interactions casual or even business-like, except for with Bangles, her oldest friend, who she owed because of the dress. She’s interested in making a point to Byron via the beer and sex pheromones Liver is making, not Liver. She’s interested in Shane’s plane for the sense of freedom she’ll get from it, not Shane. She has pleasant conversations with Jay, but Byron easily distracts her simply by showing up on TV- or by just existing, when she’s cleaning the men’s room at work and trying to gross him out.
Byron is on her mind in every instance and because of the chip, he knows it. Then she turns back to her own concerns- her relationship with Herb and flying the plane to get a sense of true freedom while she still has the chance. Those two subjects have been her top priorities since she left the Hub, as opposed to the ways she’s been sidetracked by others (getting a job, seeing a lawyer, hiring Judiff).
Hazel is working out some specific issues, which Byron, or, let’s face it, probably Bennett, eventually figures out and isolates. Then they figure out how to address those issues from inside the Hub. For the previous ten years of their marriage, Byron was always trying to meet Hazel’s needs, he just had no concept of equal give and take in a relationship. He thought he could treat her like a goldfish in a bowl, providing everything a “wife” is supposed to need and want, and that would be enough. Any complaints she made were viewed as data to be cycled through the Hub’s system to improve the “wife’s” experience of the Hub, rather than actually listened to by Byron and worked out between the two of them as part of their relationship.
That’s why I imagine all of these concepts starting with capitol letters for Byron. He seems to function more like a robot who needs an instruction manual with clear definitions, goals and instructions. Nothing is left to chance or worked out on the fly. No one gets a chance to hurt him. If you fail the never ending loyalty test, you are put in a holding area for life. You can’t be allowed out in the wild where you could do damage, but he doesn’t want to actually lose anyone he cares about either, even if they’ve betrayed him.
That’s probably explained by the way his mother and brother abandoned him when he was young. He needs to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Maybe next season we’ll find out what his dad the mailman is like.
Meanwhile, because of Herb’s alcoholism and the early death of her mother, Hazel learned to cope with chaos and having little control over the choices in her life. She figured out how to live on the edges of normalcy and on scraps of Herb’s attention and affection. But very few people can do that forever, even those whose growth was stunted by it in childhood. Eventually, you need more nourishment or you die. That’s the point Hazel reached in the pilot.
Supposedly, over the course of the season, Herb learned how to be a loving father and they repaired their relationship. It’s a TV show, so maybe they’ll stick with that. But this is the man who’d ditched Judiff in favor of a relationship with a sex doll before the series began and who made that choice again during the season. Then he threw Hazel across the room to protect the sex doll from her just a couple of episodes ago. It’s terrible writing for him to suddenly be a loving father who puts his daughter first. Everything we’ve been shown says he mostly cares about himself and his addictions, currently his sex addiction and maybe his opioid addiction. Actually, maybe the “treatment” Byron promised Herb is regular access to pharmaceutical opioids, so he doesn’t have to deal with scary street drugs.
Hazel needs a better loyalty test. But that’s basically the point of the series, isn’t it.
Not how boyishly cute Billy Magnussen is or how warm and comforting Ray Romano seems, peeps. Those are the illusions that draw the audience in just as easily as they fool Hazel into thinking these two men will finally, eventually, consistently give her what she needs from them, if she can just change herself enough to hold onto them.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we, ladies? Hazel needs to figure out who she is, period, not who she is in relation to Herb or Byron.
In the diner, Hazel tests Byron back- that’s the Authenticity™️ he realizes he’s been missing. He’s still not going to let their relationship be totally equal- she signed a prenup, for example, so she’s paying a price for leaving the Hub and asking for freedom and equality. But now she has a voice and some bargaining rights. She is no longer his doll- now she’s his counterpart. Maybe she can steer/argue him in more ethical directions occasionally, symbolized by Zelda being back in her tank, where she was happiest. Though Zelda did betray Byron, according to him, by helping Hazel escape, so she may still be paying the price for that.
Byron was worried that having feelings for Hazel would cause him to lose focus, but he lost her because of the way he held back. Then he lost focus anyway. It remains to be seen how much of the diner conversation was real on Byron’s side and how much was a con. I think it was mostly truth, but twisted to serve Byron’s purposes- just the fact that he only revealed those truths then and there, when they would have the most impact, is manipulative.
Keeping Herb’s move to the Hub and his cancer treatment secret is a whole other issue. Maybe Hazel didn’t want to argue with her father and she didn’t want to risk losing him, she just wanted to help him. Byron played on her fears again with the limited time offer to save her father, but she at least had time to think about it.
He gave her the satisfaction of winning her struggle for freedom, which ended up equating to more equality and freedom in their marriage. But it was a bit of a hollow victory, because she also realized that he was right about what he brings to the marriage. She may bring love and companionship, which Byron has realized he can’t live without and doesn’t want from anyone but her, but he brings material resources, which they can use to save her father’s life. The real world is a hard, cold place and money really does help make things better. But so does being surrounded by friends and family.
They taught those lessons to each other. Now they need to figure out how have relationships with people and with financial and material resources that aren’t toxic. Maybe in season 2 they can start by letting Fiffany out of the pasture cube. And Lyle, if we have to. He is good for comic relief. 😉
Byron proved to Hazel and to himself that they’re similar creatures, as he said on their first date. I’m not sure how much he believed it when he said it ten years ago. With the choice Hazel made to secretly move Herb into the Hub, she proved that she doesn’t want to be alone either and she’ll make the same desperate, underhanded choices that Byron did, when the choice is between losing someone she loves or lying to and controlling them.
The situations aren’t completely parallel, because Byron always has so many more options than Hazel does when he sets up his tests, allowing him to falsely narrow her choices as if she’s a rat in maze, so that in the end she’ll only be able to live with herself if she makes the choice he wants her to make. His money allows him to do that.
They both now know that she has power over his emotions, so she can use that when he becomes too controlling with his resources, making the relationship closer to equal, but still not fully equal- she did mention the prenup wistfully, sounding like she’s trapped and knows it this time. At least as long as Herb lives. Wonder if Byron will agree to have children within a few years to give Hazel more reasons to stay after Herb is gone.
Between the actions of Herb and Byron, Hazel was put in the position of deciding her father’s fate on her own. She saved him because it was what she wanted, not because anyone else, such as Herb or Judiff, asked her to. And then she lied about it rather than forcing the issue with Herb. So she ended up acting like Byron, and now they are full partners in that way, sharing a secret that brings them closer together. Herb is like their Hub rescue puppy, whose life they completely control- he even wears pants, most of the time.
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Images courtesy of HBOMax.
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