“Every thought, every feeling shared. Your brains fully connected. A network of two.”
Do those lines fill you with horror? Because they should. Within the first ten minutes of HBO’s new dark comedy Made for Love, I realized that what I’m watching is less of a comedy as much as it is a work of horror. For anyone who has left or is trying to leave a deeply toxic and/or abusive relationship, this show will be so disturbingly familiar to so many that I feel obligated to say proceed with caution, because it may feel overwhelming at times.
For those who are willing and able to dive in, Made for Love, based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Alissa Nutting, centers around Hazel Green (Cristin Milioti), who dramatically emerges from a water-filled underground tunnel in a sparkly green evening dress in the show’s opening. We quickly realize that Hazel is on the run from her husband of ten years, tech-billionaire Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), a terrible amalgamation of Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and pretty much every other famous billionaire who’s not shy about sharing their nefarious plans wrapped up in the shiny package of “progress.” But as Hazel goes on the run, she keeps being mysteriously tracked down. It’s not long before she comes to the terrifying realization that her husband has somehow managed to plant a chip in her head that makes all of her sights, sounds, basic emotions, and, more importantly, movements easily accessible to Byron. Desperate and utterly friendless, she runs to the only person she can think of to help her: her estranged father, Herbert (Ray Romano), who’s been going through his own mental health struggles since becoming a widower. As Hazel summons up the strength to confront her circumstances, it forces her to figure out what it is she really wants for the first time in her life.
Cristin Milioti is a remarkable talent, which isn’t a surprise for those who have been watching her career since she came into the public eye in How I Met Your Mother. Since then she’s been a standout presence in a number of ensemble projects including The Wolf of Wall Street, season two of Fargo (oh, how I loved her in this role), and the unforgettable Black Mirror episode “USS Callister.” Many of us assumed that 2020’s Palm Springs would be the vehicle to finally make her a household name but aside from a modest-sized but passionate audience reception, little seemed to change on that front. I would like to say that Made for Love is definitely going to change that, but I honestly don’t know if that’s going to happen. Not because Milioti isn’t brilliant (her role as Hazel will almost certainly go down as one of her finest), but because the show is a bit of a hard sell for the average viewer. It’s deeply strange and discomforting at times, and I don’t see mass audiences flocking to a dark comedy that features a sex doll in a major role (who is apparently modeled after the novelist, what?!). With that said, this is the kind of niche role that seems to appeal to Milioti and with her unique abilities as a performer, I suspect she’s right at home here.
Billy Magnussen is absolutely chilling as Byron. He’s the worst sort of human monster, the kind who believe that their actions are driven by love. The sort of unblinking person who believes they have feelings but are so far removed from empathy that they’re incapable of adequately tapping their own emotions, never mind those of others. The perfect billionaire, really. The most unsettling scene happens when Byron comes to realize the depth of Hazel’s animosity for him. His face collapses and he’s wracked with sobs as he cries over how much he loves her; it’s a performance straight out of the textbook for Abuser 101, and it may be very hard for some people to watch. Even during the show’s many flashbacks—the fragmented timeline is to the show’s detriment, and it would probably have been better served by isolating them to single episodes—Byron is a walking red flag, making DEEPLY creepy declarations such as “Together we will become a singular living god.” He’s the sort of guy who would incite most people to ask “what in the world did she see in him?” which is the sort of question that is exceedingly simple for outside observers to ask about an abusive relationship (it’s always far more complicated for the person trapped within it). Although Bryon Gogol is objectively a raging asshole, it will be interesting to see how Hazel and Byron’s relationship came to be, though not as interesting as seeing what it takes to extricate oneself from someone who literally knows your every waking move.
Hazel’s desperate actions and Byron’s single-minded mission to bring her back reminded me very much of a modern day version of Sleeping With The Enemy, the 1991 psychological thriller starring Julia Roberts that ruined Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” for an entire generation. There are major differences, of course, especially since Hazel is perceived by Byron as not only marital property, but also
The first three episodes of Made for Love are available to stream on HBO Max. Episodes four through six will air on April 8, with the final two episodes airing on April 15th.
Kaleena Rivera is a tv and film writer. When she isn’t researching whether or not “Fiffany” is a real name (as played by the tremendous Noma Dumezweni here), she can be found on Twitter here.
Header Image Source: HBO Max