There’s a point in every marriage when you realize that you are going to be having sex with the same person for the rest of your life. It has the potential of being kind of a harrowing moment—the first time the sex feels monotonous, or overworked, or lazy—and it separates you from whatever past history you’ve accumulated and puts your future on repeat.
Given the intimacy of the connection (good, bad, indifferent), that projection into the years ahead may be an exciting adventure to contemplate—or a terrifying revelation.
“I Love Dick” finds Chris and Sylvere, a middle-aged married couple, in a future otherwise known as endless hellhole of ambivalence. It’s the kind of place you don’t ever want to get stuck: in desire purgatory where you don’t really want what you’ve got but you also don’t even have the foresight to know whether you want to get out or not. The pilot begins with Chris (Kathryn Hahn), a filmmaker, and Sylvere (Griffin Dunne), her writer husband, as the couple leaves their NYC apartment to drop Sylvere off at an obscure artists’ residency in the colorful town of Marfa, Texas.
Enter Dick (Kevin Bacon), the residency’s obviously enigmatic leader, and all of a sudden, Chris is thrust into a lustful trance that drags her out of her dusty well of a marriage, reignited with purpose by her own desire. Sound absurd? Yes, but the absurdity is also familiar.
There is a lot of familiarity in “I Love Dick” from the get-go. When Chris first lays eyes on Dick at a residents’ welcome party, love/lust at first glance uncomfortably ensues, planting the seed for an obsession based on anxiety, longing, and listlessness. When Chris and Sylvere take Dick out to dinner, Chris’s desire for Dick is set ablaze when he says, “Most films made by women…aren’t that good…they have to work from behind their oppression, which makes for some bummer movies.”
His dismissal becomes her fuel to prove him wrong, while hoping to simultaneously capture his attention and find his approval. Even the second episode’s title, “The Conceptual Fuck” is reminiscent of the “zipless fuck” from Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying,” in that the fantasy of the uncomplicated encounter is enough to fuel its pursuit. At least in “I Love Dick,” Chris and Sylvere get to capitalize on the fantasy, co-conspirators in its simplicity…or so we think.
It isn’t long before we discover that Dick’s presence has cosmically shifted something in not only Chris’s personal sexual identity but also Sylvere’s. When Dick causes the reboot of the couple’s love life, it becomes clear just how lost these two people are.
Even Chris’s bangs become a metaphor for how unaware she is: they hang hazily over her eyes, altering her sight and her perception of herself. And just the way Jong reneged on the plausibility of the zipless fuck, Chris and Sylvere’s increasing interest in Dick as Almighty Saver of Marriage, Singular Arbiter of Orgasm cannot remain uncomplicated. The idea of being lost in a marriage, or a job, is entirely relatable—many of us have been there.
But to look to a single person to inspire one’s forward movement is a mind game that never ends well.
And yet despite the universal themes the show taps into, it’s hard to really care about the characters. Chris appears whiny and entitled when she’s booted from a film festival for using an up-and-coming band’s music without their permission; Sylvere is a fuddy-duddy trapped in an artist’s body, insisting there’s “something new afoot…with the Holocaust.” Moreover, Dick seems, well, like a dick. He claims he’s “post-idea,” which sounds mostly like he’s too busy being vague and mysterious to think about anything.
Alas, the idling immaturity of both Chris and Sylvere makes it difficult to believe that either of these people are going to grow up and suddenly become interested in confronting the cyclical resentments that have embedded in their union. Neither person seems self-aware nor communicative enough about their feelings to create clear guidelines for an open relationship, for example. But given their obvious dependence on one another–despite their regularly scheduled missteps–it seems as though they may only be capable slogging through the mess together, with Dick as their third wheel.
Sure, the thought of anyone ending up in a threesome with Kevin Bacon could be impetus enough to keep watching, but honestly, the steamiest moment of the first three episodes came not from the three main characters, but two supporting characters, Devon (Roberta Colindrez) and Toby (India Menuez).
Luckily, in one of these scenes between the two minor characters, we get to witness an enchanting moment. In a display of sexual desire and power, Toby destroys a significant piece of art and Devon watches, enthralled. It is a wonderful wielding of feminine power embodied by freedom and recklessness. Toby’s moment was one of raw female sexuality, an honest, wild show of empowerment that enraptures its audience.
For now, it is unclear as to whether Chris and Sylvere can become untethered enough from the bonds of time and ambivalence to observe where their individual powers lie, and how to confront their shared destiny. But I will keep tuning in to see if the three main characters in “I Love Dick,” in their trusty love triangle, unravel as it seems like they are fated to.