Well, here we are, at the end of an emotionally draining inaugural season of Tell Me You Love Me. In the end, the show wasn’t about the sex, it wasn’t about Caucasian angst, but it was about, in the words of Dr. May, “the courage to be happy.” That phrase seems at first like an ironic statement, but given the pits of despair in which these characters volunteer to live, happiness itself seems a radical choice. What Dr. May means in this statement is that too few people allow themselves to see joy as a viable life choice, choosing instead to run through a series of negative emotions as a way to make the time pass. Having watched the main couples of this show slowly wade through the morass of negativity this season, despite all the positive aspects of their lives, it’s hard to argue with Dr. May.
However, by the end, each in their own way, all the couples on the show found courage in one form or another, a courage that felt well-deserved and earned. That comes with having experienced everything negative this season, and still finding ways to rediscover that spark of happiness that brought them together in the first place. While the journey of this first season was often painful, it made the individual instances of courage that much more powerful in contrast.
And so, for the last time this season, let’s break things down couple by couple.
Having rooted for this couple all season, I spent the entire episode this week peeking at the screen over the top of my computer praying one or both of these two wouldn’t do something stupid that would irrevocably end their relationship. That’s how good these two actors are, and how well-written this storyline has been. At stake for these two: the viability of a future still married. Their friends are all miserable or divorced, they’ve turned off their own daughter to the conception of marriage/procreation, and as Katie says in therapy, the two no longer have sex due to not recognizing the person in bed with them anymore.
And that last point is key, because what these two have been doing all season is not dealing with a spouse, but dealing with a stranger. The gap between them exists due to this unfamiliarity, a by-product of twelve years of parenting and t-ball and PTA meetings and the three hundred thousand other things that have morphed them from newlyweds to the people sitting in therapy across from Dr. May. The physical transformations that come from twelve years of life and responsibility are symptomatic of the greater change on the mental landscape, with each altered over the last decade into people the other barely recognized.
As such, their inability to have sex with each other can be see, in a way, as a latent desire to not cheat on each other’s spouse with the stranger in their bed. I’m not suggesting they consciously thought that, but clearly this element has been in play all year. Think back a few week’s ago, when their kids left for a sleepover. They each caught sight of each other’s body in ways that suggested they were looking at a total stranger. The experience was both titillating and embarrassing, almost as if they’d caught themselves looking at another person. (Such a desire manifested itself again with Katie staring at Hugo for an uncomfortably long time in The Mix.)
What Katie and David had to do, in essence, is abandon the idealized version of each other (i.e., the wedding day couple that no longer exists), and embrace each other for who they are now. And thus, in their (literally) climatic scene, and the climatic scene of the entire season, these two finally connect physically, albeit in a way that both defies convention and keeps in character with these two. They don’t actually have sex, which would have been the expected outcome, but instead engage in simultaneously pleasuring themselves while Katie is atop David.
So, why is this important? Doesn’t this show they still have a ways to go? Heck yes, and this is the genius of Tell Me You Love Me: none of the couples this week achieved closure, anymore than any actual couple in real life ever achieves closure. But think of it this way: their entire journey this season started with Katie catching David masturbating. Later on, she herself tried to, but couldn’t go through with it. With her both able to rediscover her body (something she confessed to not recognizing anymore in therapy), while allowing David to experience sexual pleasure in the only way he currently knows, marks tremendous progress, in a realistic way. If they had lit 200 candles, played Sam Cooke records, and went at it in 17 positions that they hadn’t used since their honeymoon, it would have rung very Hollywood and very false. So, kudos for this unexpected act of courage for this couple.
To understand Carolyn and Palek is to understand the power dynamic between them, and no better representation of this occurred than when we saw the two of them in the first therapy session after Palek called it quits on their relationship. Not only was there a jacket placed firmly between them (usually the jackets sit on the arms of the couch), but Carolyn and Palek had switched positions: she on the stage right side, he on the stage left. This jacket and this repositioning tells you everything you need to know about the dynamic between these two at the outset this week, and just how far they had to come in order to rest against each other in bed by the end of the episode.
Carolyn misses Palek something fierce, but could never in a million years betray weakness, especially in front of someone else, and so organizes a therapy session to essentially win back the upper hand stolen from her by Palek last week. Yes, it’s petty, and yes, it misses the point, but this is Carolyn we’re talking about here, a woman capable of actual human emotion but all too often opting instead for icy control. Palek’s failure to react passionately to her over-the-top rant only worsened Carolyn’s loneliness, forcing her to take a stand that, while logical, represents her accepting a compromise: she’s OK with raising the kid herself so long as she has Palek for her husband.
Palek, for his part, isn’t quite Carolyn’s emotionally manipulative equal, but his reticence, his fear, his inability to confront the issues at hand makes him equally culpable in their almost-failure as a couple. His only avenue for expression comes indirectly at work, as he and David argue and yell over a misplaced work order. These two spend more emotional points arguing over something essentially meaningless, since it’s a lot easier for them to argue with each other than honestly confront their wives. This misdirection of anger is a coward’s substitute, happens all the time, and is sadly, completely realistic.
How you take Carolyn and Palek’s reconnection depends on how you take the plot twist that gets them to that point. If the show was dead-set on keeping this couple together, then yes, a miscarriage was about the only way they could achieve it, so far had they split these two. On the other hand, I could see complaints that the miscarriage felt out of place in a show that normally eschewed such overly dramatic plot points in favor of examining the everyday, omnipresent minutiae of troubled relationships. I’ll let you decide for yourself on which side you fall.
That being said, in refusing to let Carolyn go home alone, despite another verbal undressing from her, showed that Palek, formerly scared, now had been scared straight. Perhaps fear isn’t the basis of long-term success in a relationship, but remember, this fear over Carolyn’s well-being superseded his own fear of fatherhood, and that’s what’s important to recognize. His act of courage was to plant his flag firmly back in his marriage, and Carolyn’s act of courage was to allow herself to be vulnerable. Both of these run counter to their natural instincts, and as such, allowed them to reconnect, albeit tentatively, for the first time in a while. There’s no guarantee these two will make it, but such courage bodes fairly well.
To understand everything that happened to Jaime this year, you need only listen to one line of dialogue she speaks to Hugo over the phone. Having had a dinner reconnecting after a chance encounter in a gas station, the two say goodnight and go their separate ways. But he calls her upon arriving home, and during the conversation that follows, he forgives her for breaking them up due to her guilt over cheating on him. She then tells him she could never reciprocally forgive him had he done that, adding, “I can’t even forgive myself.” And in the long silence that followed, you could hear the pieces clicking into place, and the path before them clear. It didn’t clear completely, but it cleared enough for two people to walk down.
And that path leads directly to a notary public, where the two abandon their hugely complicated wedding plans for $250, a Justice of the Peace, and an anonymous witness. Normally I’d be panning this choice as a flight of fancy, a hormonally-induced move they would regret in six weeks, if not for Jaime’s act of courage the night before: not sleeping with Hugo. Doesn’t sound like a huge amount of courage, I know, but Jaime’s entire psychological makeup centers around her inability to be alone. Her time with Nick was time spent filling the space abandoned by Hugo. To reject Hugo’s less-than-subtle hint to sleep together, she’s demonstrating both growth and compassion.
This compassion extends not only to herself, but to Hugo: her hesitancy in getting back together centers almost entirely around her desire to not hurt Hugo once again. Selfishly, she wants to re-enter without a moment’s hesitation, but actually thinks enough about Hugo’s feelings to say no, ostensibly for the first time in her life. Her hesitancy centers around her belief that all her relationships are cyclical dramas forever and always doomed to play out in the following fashion: meet cute, sleep together, get bored, cheat on him, leave in tears. For Jaime, there’s no other option. However, her eyes open when Hugo offers another option: that he’d rather be with her with the chance of it all going down in flames than a life without her in it. Hugo doesn’t negate her flaws, but in fact embraces them, and with that revelation, it was a short time until a re-proposal and a trip to the notary public.
For now, such a rush of emotion suits these two fine: their acts of courage at this point in their lives merely necessitate the decision to enter into a relationship with no guarantees. There will be many acts left to accomplish, but having completed the first, there’s every chance they will be equipped to deal with the others down the line.
In the end, Dr. May’s character existed to not only provide a uniting framework for the other couples, but to demonstrate that these acts of courage never stop. Even though all three couples in the show achieved some measure of happiness by the season’s end, there’s no reason to think they’ve achieved “happily ever after.” In fact, Tell Me You Love Me is pretty insistent upon the fact that “happily ever after” is a fool’s errand.
Dr. May’s complicated relationship with John, and her husband’s consistent feeling of playing second-fiddle to him, illustrated just how impossible “happily ever after” is. This isn’t to say this show takes the position that relationships are always and ever pure misery, but that happiness is just one aspect of even the healthiest of relationships. John’s death did not mark closure for this love triangle, but a reminder of just how potent and potentially upsetting this triangle could have been. But in a world in which more than half of couples get divorced, one can safely assume Dr. May and Arthur are quite the courageous duo. When so many others turn and flee, they have stuck together, through what we can safely assume were very trying times.
And in the end, that’s the lesson of the show: that the troubles these couples had don’t merely end with the ten episodes worth of television. All will continue, albeit bruised, with some varying degree of smile on their face. And while that smile may not be fleeting, it’s far from permanent. But that smile is all that matters, and it’s worth those risky acts of courage in order to achieve it.
What did you think of the season finale? Which storyline did you most enjoy? And what do you think they should do for Season 2: follow these couples, or introduce brand-new ones?