The Story of a Brain Chip, Divorce and Ray Romano’s Sex Doll

The Story of a Brain Chip, Divorce and Ray Romano’s Sex Doll

Hazel heaves open a sewer lid in the middle of the desert and hurls herself out of the ground. Soaking wet and gasping for breath, she nurses the bloo

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Hazel heaves open a sewer lid in the middle of the desert and hurls herself out of the ground. Soaking wet and gasping for breath, she nurses the bloody wound on the back of her head. The escapee’s visible distress quickly transforms into a gleaming smile of relief. She turns to the glistening white monolith of a building behind her, and gives it one of the most erect middle fingers captured on camera.

What the hell happened to her?

In Made for Love, the new HBO Max series that launches Thursday, the answers come fast, like a bullet train of truths and revelations on a direct route to disrupt how you think about humanity, relationships, connection, romance, and technology. That is to say, when you see Hazel, played by Palm Springs star Cristin Milioti, dripping wet and crawling out of a hole in the dry desert sun, the “wtf?!” of it all is wilder than you’d think.

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The first episode of Made for Love traces the 24 hours before Hazel’s harrowing journey to freedom.

We meet her inside the walls of a sprawling, hi-tech mansion, where digital voice assistants prompt her through the day’s schedule of relaxation: reading time by the pool window is over; now it’s time for a nap. When we meet her husband, Byron (played by Game Night’s Billy Magnussen), he is performing oral sex on her. It is when she is then asked by one of those digital voice assistants to grade her orgasm that things start to seem weird.

As we discover at a dizzying speed, Byron is the megalomaniac head of a global tech company. Hazel is his wife, whose activities and experiences are monitored and controlled by the various digital advancements his company has made.

The next big swing is called “Made for Love.” It is a chip implanted inside the brains of a couple to ensure their every thought and emotion is united as one. Unbeknownst to her, Byron has decided that Hazel will be the first person to receive the chip, despite its potential lethality. He implanted it in her brain while she was drugged. A nefarious surveillance device, or true love?

All of this happens before we even meet Ray Romano’s character, Hazel’s father, who is in love with a sex doll.

So when gathered with the main cast over Zoom to discuss the series, where does one even begin? The cautionary tale about technology? The inevitability of surveillance? A woman processing trauma? The desperation for connection and love?

“I would say the sex doll,” deadpans Romano, with perfect timing.

The three actors—Milioti, Magnussen, and Romano—are all beaming in from different states. Like Milioti’s character in Made For Love, who becomes jaded by the curated luxuries inside her tricked out mansion-prison and begins to miss such imperfections as warm beer and bad smells, the trio is commiserating over how the pandemic has made all of us nostalgic for even shitty things—like an exhausting day of non-stop junket press for a TV show.

“I am bummed that we’re not all in like a terribly overlit, fluorescent conference room at a Ramada somewhere in the Valley together,” Milioti laughs. “Because, like, the blast of us all being at the same table talking, I never thought I’d miss that as much as I do.”

The yearning is understandable as she and Magnussen giggle their way through Romano’s extended answer about what struck him most about the series. Yes, there was the sex doll, which certainly intrigued him: “I knew that I wouldn’t get that nervous with the sex scenes. Or rejected.”

But on a serious note, he was impressed by the different and weird directions in which the show was willing to zag (enter sex doll). After receiving scripts for the entire series, he knew it wasn’t just going to be a one-joke gag, but an entry point into something much deeper for his character. Then he learned who was going to be involved and wanted in, quipping: “Of course, Billy wasn’t involved yet…”

Magnussen keeps the joke going: “When I signed on, I did not know Ray was involved.” But he also riffs on the fact that the show had the courage to be strange. “I hate to describe the show as weird. But we live in such a strict world, especially through this pandemic over this past year. It’s like, why not be involved in something that lifts us out of it? Let’s play with reality a little bit. Let’s not be so serious.”

“There are so many incredible things about technology, but a lot of it has also led to real disconnect and real loneliness, like a sort of mirage of connection.”

It’s the conundrum in talking about Made for Love: If you start talking about one element of the show, you’re doing a disservice to the other 15 or so things going on.

You give too much attention to the sex doll and that weirdness, and you’re neglecting the ways in which Hazel’s journey is a unique dance between desperation, trauma, and survival. The main story element is the brain chip, but harping on the outrageousness of that overshadows the subtle points about how we’ve come to accept the ways love and technology are intertwined.

“I’m attracted to things that can’t be categorized,” says Milioti. “Of course, you could say the show is a dark comedy, or sci-fi-like. But I’ve also never seen a relationship between a father and daughter portrayed this way, or divorce and a failing marriage portrayed this way. I love that it has this sneaky approach where you are watching this heightened sci-fi, dark-comedy world and suddenly you see yourself in it, or you see your family, or you see just how desperate we all are to connect sometimes.”

Both Milioti and Magnussen appeared in the Black Mirror episode “USS Callister.” Magnussen co-starred in the sci-fi psychodrama series Maniac. They’re keen to dissect what’s unique about shows like those and Made for Love, which present our increased reliance on technology and the whims of tech-company agendas as something to be horrified by.

They’re cautionary tales showing the dangers of how far things can go in terms of data collection, lack of privacy, and surveillance—warnings consumers shrug off because they enjoy the convenience of the services the tech provides.

The monitoring in Made for Love is characterized as oppressive and intrusive. But the truth is, a situation like that may not be far off. No one is currently monitoring the quality of my orgasms, but there are times when maybe I wouldn’t mind such a thing. And that’s where something like Made For Love, and the brain chip at the center of it, doesn’t seem like a major leap.

“There are so many incredible things about technology, but a lot of it has also led to real disconnect and real loneliness, like a sort of mirage of connection,” says Milioti. “When I read this, I had such a visceral reaction to it, where I was like, ‘That is my worst nightmare.’ To have your privacy and your autonomy governed by someone, to the point that you’re afraid to even think… You can be put on a desert island, but at least you can think what you want to think. You can get lost in the forest of your own brain. To have someone constantly seeing every single part of your psyche, I can’t think of a worse fate.”

The irony, of course, is that as we talk about the surreality of working on a show about the dangers of technology and the depressing ways we’ve all become addicted to it—watching live concerts through phone screens, being unable to read a book because we’ve been conditioned out of the concentration it requires, scrolling through exhaustive privacy agreements—it’s also responsible for this conversation taking place at all.

“I think the biggest thing is that at the end of the day, it’s a choice that I get to go on my phone,” Magnussen says. “The reality of the show is there’s no choice. If we can keep that separation, or that element of choice in there, then we’re all good.”

Without the technology to Zoom, for example, how would we have ever been able to watch Ray Romano’s face flush with embarrassment when the Made for Love trailer is brought up, which is boldly, if inexplicably, soundtracked by Romano reciting the lyrics to Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” as if it were a beat poem? “Well I am a spoken-word artist,” he jokes. “A lot of people don’t know that.”

The truth is that the social-media reaction to his “Crazy in Love” performance caused a stir on social media, with many people remarking how surprisingly sexy and sensual they found it. Who knew they needed Ray Romano seductively reciting Beyoncé lyrics in their lives?

As Milioti and Magnussen shriek with delight, Romano just shakes his head: “My wife will give a rebuttal to that.”

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