Yes, folks, here we go with the first of ten episodes of HBO’s new drama, Tell Me You Love Me, better know in casual circles as That Show That Shows All the Sex Stuff. You couldn’t escape any review of this series without some holier-than-thou critic bemoaning the full frontal nudity, or some hipper-than-thou critic bemoaning the bemoaners. All this over a bunch of moaners. Honestly.
So let’s just get this over with up front: yes, this show has a lot of sex in it. And yes, these recaps will talk about the sex in this show, since the sexual lives of these characters are central to the show’s narrative structure. If you’re OK with the notion of fictional, consensual adults getting their emotionally damaged freak on, by all means read on. If you’re not OK with this, I suggest you petition Zap2It to start recapping Dora the Explorer.
We good? Good.
Tell Me You Love Me is, in many ways, an ironic title. Telling someone "I love you" in this show is almost the kiss of death: its pronouncement invariably widens the rift between these two people. Saying, "I love you," in the world of this show, is in fact something one says when one has nothing else to offer up as proof of one’s commitment to the other. In a way, it’s perceived as the shallowest thing one could possibly say, and clearly demarcates trouble in the relationship.
Confusing? Yes and no. On one hand, it’s counterintuitive that saying "I love you" could possibly DAMAGE a relationship. Saying "I love you" should be a positive statement, in contrast to say, I dunno, "You’re swell" or "You have a great personality" in the grand scheme of things. However, within the couples of this show, it serves as an emotional placeholder: it is an inferior stand-in for the statement or action the partner wants. And who are these couples in question? The break down as follows:
- David and Katie: Parents of two, their intimacy threatened/deadened by the existence of their children and their status as parents.
- Palek and Carolyn: A married couple, with their intimacy threatened/deadened by their inability to conceive any children.
- Jaime and Hugo: An engaged couple who for all intents and purposes ARE children, with their future threatened/deadened due to Hugo’s inability to commit to the idea of monogamy.
Early in the episode, Katie is in a coffee shop with a friend of hers, and the two engage in a "chicken/egg" discussion in which they wonder (and I’m paraphrasing here): do people who stop have sex start hating each other, or do people stop having sex BECAUSE they hate each other in the first place? Katie’s friend further states that, for some people, making love is easier than making conversation. Of course, no one in Tell Me You Love Me actually makes love. The sex, when it happens (and it happens frequently, and graphically), comes fast and furious, as if each partner were in attack mode of some form of another. They storm each other as if they were storming the beaches of Normandy.
But while there’s plenty of carnality, there’s very little intimacy. This dichotomy becomes clear once you see the final sex act of the episode — between two sexagenarians. Yup, even the 60-somethings in this show are getting some jungle love. (Oh ee oh ee oh.) And while watching Dr. May Foster, the 60-something therapist that connects all the couples on the show, get it on wasn’t exactly the sexiest thing I’ve seen since lunchtime, the scene did allow for tender physical interaction between two human beings, something Tell Me You Love Me had not shown until that point.
Dr. Foster’s scene segued into three shots: each one featuring one of the three couples in bed. All three were touching in some fashion: Hugo and Jaime were a tangled mess of limbs, Palek and Carolyn where spooning, David and Katie were connected at their temples. But none of these couples could accurately be described as close in anything except a physical sense. The idea of sex as a bond between these couples at this point is ludicrous.
That’s not to say it can’t eventually provide such a bond in the future. But clearly, sex alone isn’t going to solve these problems anymore than the simple act of "I love you" will solve them. It’s like putting a band-aid over an amputated limb at this point. The sheer denial in their lives is evident by the complete lack of honesty during their sessions with Dr. Foster.
Nearly every statement made by Palek, Carolyn, and Katie were lies; at best, their statements were "truth with omissions." As for Hugo and Jaime: they haven’t gotten to therapy just yet, mostly due to Hugo’s "if I keep convincing her to have sex, she’ll never get the chance to tell me how creeptastic I am" technique. I can’t wait for those two to end up on Dr. Foster’s couch; given the way this show’s been going so far, they’ll probably end up going at it right in front of Dr. Foster, who will call it a "major breakthrough."
Point is this: as prophesied by Katie’s friend early in the episode, these couples are obsessing over sex, not communication, and the only form of communication offered (the ubiquitous "I love you") a poor substitution for the conversation that should actually be happening. Dr. Foster’s role is to facilitate this conversation. Whether she can or not will be slowly revealed over the course of the season.
What did you make of the premiere episode? Did its graphic nature turn you off or strike you as realistic? And what kind of woman names her son "Palek"?