A few weeks ago I started watching the Amazon series I Love Dick, the latest from Transparent creator Jill Soloway. I only got partway through the first episode, only to the point when Chris speaks to Dick for the first time, when I had to stop watching. (I no longer remember why I had to stop.) I only watched enough to be intrigued but what was going to happen, only long enough to be reminded that Kathryn Hahn is a treasure and that I would watch her in anything.
I finally made it back to I Love Dick last night. My wife was doing something and we were going to watch TV when she was finished so I was going to watch something to kill some time. Then my wife walks in when Chris is reading to her husband Sylvère her first letter to Dick and my wife was hooked and we watched the rest of the series.
The premise of the series is that Sylvère (Griffin Dunne) gets a fellowship from an institute in Marfa, Texas, and his wife Chris (Hahn) accompanies him after her movie gets rejected from the Venice Film Festival because she didn’t get clearance to use a song in her film. Dick (Kevin Bacon) is the head of the institute.
I’m not sure what I expected from I Love Dick. Actually, that’s not true. I expected Chris and Dick to have an affair, maybe something bittersweet after which they go their separate ways, both a little wiser. I expected Chris to leave Marfa with Sylvère, their marriage stronger for the brief detour. Heck, maybe Sylvère and Dick also have an affair. What I didn’t expect is for I Love Dick to reinforce the idea that relationships are strange, and staying together depends on shared madness as much as it depends on mutual attraction and common values.
Chris’ attraction (obsession?) with Dick is not a betrayal of her marriage, at least not initially. The effect of her reading that first letter to Sylvère is not recrimination but erection, followed by passionate sex, followed by more letters and more passionate sex. Dick is “present” for Chris and Sylvère’s sex — depicted literally as Dick sitting in the room watching them, telling Chris not to come yet. A long-term marriage in a period without regular sex is transformed into something akin to the early period of a relationship, when its more difficult to not have sex than to have it.
And even then the series refuses to follow the expected path. Chris is not satisfied with the increased passion. TV series regularly show us characters that reach a desired goal and are satisfied, but that is not the way most of us live our lives. That smile from an attractive stranger is good, but a compliment from that person is better. A flattering interaction is even better. Confirmation of their interest is even better. To be desired, to have it reconfirmed by someone who is not socially obligated to want you, is appealing, especially as we get older. Chris is a woman “straddling forty”, close to the age when women in this country disappear. Dick is pushing sixty and those additional years only enhance his charisma. Chris needs that affirmation from Dick more than she needs it from Sylvère. Don’t we all?
To deal with Chris’ growing obsession Sylvère has an idea; that the only solution may be for Dick to fuck Chris so that she can get over it. Because sometimes the only cure for wanting to be desired is to come into contact with the illusion, to have the idea replaced by reality. And to a certain extent this happens to Chris when Dick decides to fuck her. Chris doesn’t know how to react, and then temporarily loses interest when she realizes that Sylvère asked Dick to fuck her, which makes Chris feels like property. One of the most important things about the illusion of desirability is the idea that you have agency.
And the series ends in maybe the only way it can, with Chris and Dick prevented from fucking by something I won’t spoil but which feels perfect, another reality contradicting the illusion.
There are other plots which reinforce or comment on the main plot but those were less interesting to me, than the way that desire can ebb away and suddenly come back, the way that a long time couple can come to depend on madness to stay together, and they way that all love is to some extent dependent on shared delusions. I Love Dick may be the most accurate depiction of a long-term relationship that I’ve seen on TV. Or maybe I’m just as mad as Chris.