The following article contains spoilers for 'Made For Love.'
If you’ve ever wished that Black Mirror had comic relief to break up its tone of sharp unease and paranoia, then consider HBO Max’s new series Made For Love, its funnier and more palatable cousin. Based on the novel by executive producer Alissa Nutting, the series is a case study in love and loneliness presented through the lens of dark comedy and science fiction. Developed three–dimensional characters and a mind–boggling plot are brought to life by witty performances—leaving viewers wanting more.
Cristin Milioti and Billy Magnussen play the series' main characters, the husband–wife duo Hazel Green and Byron Gogol. On the surface, Hazel lives in the picturesque utopia with everything she could ever want: days basking poolside in the sun, an exotic pet dolphin named Zelda, and a husband who always goes down on her and never asks her to return the favor—although she does have to provide an in–depth rating of each orgasm for feedback purposes. But the facade quickly melts away to reveal a true Orwellian dystopia where Big Brother is indeed always watching.
Byron is a tech billionaire who lives in what’s essentially a virtual reality box known as “the Hub.” The night he met Hazel, a struggling college student, he took her to Italy—within the Hub of course—for dinner, and they were married almost immediately. At the moment we’re introduced to the couple, Hazel hasn’t set foot outside the Hub for an entire decade, and the Gogol team is celebrating the launch of Byron’s newest invention. Named “Made for Love,” it is a pair of chips meant to be implanted in couples’ brains—similar to those BFF necklaces we all wore in middle school, except these matching accessories track, monitor, and share emotional data. This is also the night that Hazel learns she is “User One.”
Without Hazel’s knowledge or consent, Byron has already planted the chip inside her brain, “a surveillance tool dressed up as a dream of perfect union.” She’s furious, understandably, and escapes the Hub with the help of her dolphin Zelda, who points her toward an exit within the pool. The truth is, Byron's patented “Made For Love” removes the barriers of the human mind that actually allow us to open up and form healthy relationships. He might be giving her head and a home, but he withholds vulnerability, honesty, and trust.
Made for Love takes the effort to highlight why its flawed, complicated characters act the way they do in their respective relationships. We learn that Byron had a traumatic childhood, which comes as no surprise given his excessive need for control. Hazel’s father Herbert, played by Ray Romano, serves as a parallel to Byron with a tad more humor. Herbert—unfortunately nicknamed “Herb the perv”—is in a committed relationship with a sex doll named Diane, although he’d prefer if everyone viewed her as a “synthetic partner.” At first it’s a bit funny, then a bit sad, and then a bit sweet. Just like Byron, Herbert fears letting anyone in. He lost his wife to cancer and his daughter to a sociopathic billionaire. In this lonesome, vulnerable state, who could bear another heartbreak?
The ultimate difference between these two men in Hazel's life is that Herbert doesn’t have to consider his plastic partner’s feelings, but he does anyway, while Byron physically and psychologically manipulates a real person to fit into his self–constructed safe haven. He lacks baseline empathy, and embodies the ultimate possessive patriarchal power. Only when he literally sees life through Hazel's eyes can he start getting to know her.
Hazel isn’t in the clear, though. She agreed to marry a man she just met, albeit a wealthy and charming one, to escape her drab, unfulfilling world. Upon escaping the Hub and reuniting with her estranged father, she begins to rebuild her relationship with him—and build a relationship with Diane. However, when Byron reveals that Herbert has pancreatic cancer and only his technology can cure it, Hazel does unto her father what Byron did to her. The final sequence of the first season reveals that Hazel sacrifices herself to Byron's control for her father's life. They recreate a version of his house in the Hub, where he’d never know the difference between the virtual reality and his past life.
Is her decision right or wrong? Milioti hopes that viewers have different opinions and debate with one another. Based on Hazel’s impulsive actions in the past, it’s possible that she wants to save her father to preserve the only true love she has left in this world. Or maybe she really is selfless, finally realizing that Herbert deserves a long happy life with Diane, even if it means sentencing herself to Byron's control for eternity. If there’s a season two on the way, we might get a definitive answer—but until then, there’s still much to discuss, which is the hallmark of a successfully mind–boggling show.