Patrick Freyne on Love Is Blind: It’s Gilead, Love Island and Blind Date rolled into one
Netflix’s dystopian dating show asks if it’s what’s inside that really counts (Spoiler: it isn’t)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a millennial hunk in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Apparently he’s really, really in want of a wife. This week I watched the first nine episodes of Love Is Blind (Netflix), a programme in which young people meet prospective mates in adjacent “pods”, communicating only through a glowing portal and then get married within six weeks of meeting. Kids these days with their hippity hop!
This is basically what happens when the founders of Gilead watch Love Island and Blind Date and say: “You know, if we made them wear clothes, segregated them by gender, invented a ‘dating pod’ and it all ended in marriage, we could have a lorra lorra laughs, Blessed Be the Fruit!”
The first odd thing about Love Is Blind is that, despite the premise, everyone is conventionally attractive and dresses up for their dates as though they’re visiting the richest kings of Europe. Love may be blind, but reality television casting directors are not.
So nobody starts their stories with, “When the scientist that created me set me loose on this cursed earth” or “It’s difficult to find the right glasses when your single goggling eye is on a stalk” or “I would love to have children someday, but sadly children fear me and often throw stones when I approach their village.”
Instead, most of these hunks relish the idea of not being judged on looks, not because they feel unattractive, but because they think they are too attractive. I know most of you can relate. This is where the best-looking Irish Times readers hang out.
The other thing is that these people are not, for the most part, glamour models or MMA fighters or influencers or the children of celebrities. Most of them have the kind of boring modern jobs that a five-year-old would struggle to draw a picture of and which ultimately represent late capitalistic entropy. They have titles like “regional director”, “content creator” and “general manager”. There are some exceptions. It intrigues me, for example, that wild party-girl Amber is an “ex-tank mechanic.” That “ex” raises a lot of fascinating questions that are never fully addressed.
Anyway, the prospective lovers talk to each other and woo one another and when they are finished in the pods they go back to their single gender apartments to quaff goblets of reality telly fuel (wine). Personalities emerge. A handsome cad called “Barnett” strings many women along. “They would all make excellent wives,” he says and the elders of Gilead no doubt take a note: “Season Two: Allow more wives!”
A 34-year-old regional director called Jessica can’t decide whether to settle for 24-year-old Mark, whom she considers too young, even though, when talking to him she adopts the voice of a world-weary baby.
Everyone is American and thus has been to therapy and so talks about their feelings endlessly. Is openness really the secret to a good relationship? I mean, my loved ones and I haven’t spoken in decades and we’re perfectly happy. I assume. You’d need to ask them.
In this accelerated hothouse of love they’re all soon unburdening themselves and weeping. There are times, to be fair, when they’re being genuinely, touchingly vulnerable and open but there are also times when I think they’re just channelling reality television weeping logic (screen time x audience expectation = cryface).
Kenny and Kelly cement a wedding proposal over a baby book they liked when they were actual babies.
“I think God put you in my life for a reason,” says Lauren, a content creator, to Cameron, a scientist, though God has nothing to do with this, unless the casting director is named God (people have weird names these days).
Jessica ultimately says “yes” to Mark’s proposal because she doesn’t want to be left out. She’s almost 35, after all, although her voice is only three.
In the end, six young bucks propose through the glowing glass portal. Then the couples get to see one another for the first time. Nobody goes, “Aieee my eyes!” or, more politely, “I like how your prehensile tail matches your tusks, my love” because they are all tremendously hunky.
They go on holiday in Mexico, where we soon stop baulking at sentences that start: “When we were in the pod…” Some have sexual chemistry. Some do not. We are privy to all of this information. We see them in yachts and helicopters. Almost all of them are straight. Reality television is nothing if not heteronormative. The exception is sexually-fluid Carlton, whose reluctance to disclose his sexuality leads to a nasty engagement-ending fight with his fiancee, Diamond. (This is something the show creator’s should have intervened to avoid.)
So is existing in isolated pods really the best way to get to know a human being? “Is who we are inside enough?” as co-hosts Nick and Vanessa Lachey repeatedly ask.
Well, no, because “who we are inside” is just a bunch of disgusting guts. Unless you’re really into kidneys, what’s inside counts for nothing. Who we are is the sum of our actions and interactions. Many of these couples learn this, apparently for the first time, once released into the real world (well, a real world in which their relationship is a triad with a camera crew, and everyone lives together in an accursed love compound).
They visit family members, who are variously annoyed, pleased and confused by their kinfolk’s pod love. “I’m from a whole other generation and we didn’t pick a wife like this,” says Lauren’s dad, which suggests that televised pod-marriage is a newfangled thing that all the kids will soon be doing.
They go on romantic dates. They buy wedding garb. They bicker in the face of day-to-day reality. Damian, an emotionally retentive general manager, generally manages to get angrier and angrier as his fiancee, Giannina, turns out to be an unpredictable evil genius. “You know how you tell me that this is the best sex in your life?” she says during one of their many, many arguments. “Have you noticed that I don’t return the compliment?”
Jessica and Mark re-create their pod experience by conversing from adjacent rooms because this is now the only way they can “perform” emotionally speaking.
Barnett, who once seemed like a relaxed jokester, is revealed to be the uptight scion of a stuffy family while his fiancee, Amber, is jobless and debt-ridden. The mismatch isn’t half as much fun as it seemed when they were both living in adjacent pods, subsisting on wine.
“You’re 1,000 per cent you’re doing this?” Amber asks Barnett of their upcoming marriage.
“I’m pretty much 100 per cent,” responds Barnett. This both downgrades Amber’s 1,000 per cent and makes me curious about how percentages work. (I didn’t do honours maths.)
At the end of episode nine we see the beginnings of Damian and Giannina’s wedding. “Will you commit to each other as husband and wife or walk away from each other forever?” says the officiating clergyperson. “Now is the time to decide if love is blind.”
These are lines you’ll remember, of course, from the Catholic marriage ceremony. Jesus probably said them. So we’re left on this cliffhanger. It’s a little like watching ITV’s sociology classic Seven Up, except this is happening in mere weeks and not seven-year jumps. Going by the speed of these relationships, the pod people will gestate babies in days and will be grey-haired divorcees living in Florida by the time the show returns for its finale (as I write).
Oh yeah, for the record, divorce exists in this universe. It’s quite popular in the United States. This would be quite a different show in Ireland of the 1980s, and it will be a different show in the dystopian theocracy to come.