I Love Dick as a television series is highly unusual. As a work of art it is a dazzling meditation on love, sexuality, and feminine perspective. The series shows the imagery and iconography of the female gaze explored through sexual obsession and feminine desire. I Love Dick was created by Jill Soloway of Transparent.
This is a review of season 1 only. Minor spoilers ahead. I Love Dick is an Amazon Original.
The storyline is this. Aspiring filmmaker Chris (Kathryn Hahn) and her husband Sylvere (Griffin Dunne), a Holocaust scholar, arrive in Marfa, Texas. Chris expects to leave Sylvere there to work on his Guggenheim Fellowship with the art critic Dick (Kevin Bacon). Chris will head off to Italy to show her latest short film.
Their marriage is stale. They no longer have sex. She’s desperate to have a career of her own. As a woman, she’s never been heard or respected as an artist. Chris receives word that the showing of her film is scrapped. She’s stuck in Marfa.
Dick enters the scene on a horse. He’s tall, lanky, clad in cowboy boots, jeans, and a cowboy hat. Dick is an image, a mirage, an icon of American longing. Seeing him electrifies both Chris and her disheveled scholar of a husband.
Chris begins writing what she describes as a short story in the form of letters to Dick. I love the contrast between the hard, flat intonation Kathryn Hahn gives the letters in voice over as she writes them and the way other characters who read them aloud imbue the words with emotion. When read with emotion, you can hear the brilliance in the writing: it’s vivid, alive and expressive.
Sylvere is as excited by the letters to Dick as Chris is. She hangs them above the bed and they have the best sex they’ve had in years while fantasizing about Dick.
Dick isn’t interested in Chris at all. He’s bored by her film (so was I). He doesn’t find her attractive. The rejection makes her crazy. First she delivers all the letters to him in a box. Devon (Roberta Colindrez) steals a few during the delivery process. When Sylvere finds out he was mentioned in the letters he insists she get them back. Too late, Dick’s read them.
Eventually Chris posts the letters all over town. She attaches them to buildings with a single piece of tape so they flap in the wind. Everyone reads them.
Let’s go back to Devon for a minute. Devon is my favorite character. She gathers her friends to read aloud from Chris’ letters as an art piece. She finds a space she can use and begins rehearsals.
By the time the performance rolls around, the piece has morphed into a dance with many men in Marfa participating. It’s a dance about how beautiful men are. Devon leads the dance.
I’m slightly confused about Devon’s gender identity. I didn’t know whether to use male, female or singular they pronouns for Devon. In a flashback, little Dolores tells her mother her name is Devon and she isn’t a lady. And Devon leads the man dance. On the other hand, Jill Soloway has access to so many transgender actors that if Devon was operating in the world as a transgender male, I think a transgender actor would have the part.
If trying to figure out a gender identity for Devon, I found this article in Vanity Fair. “Colindrez has semi-subconsciously crafted the character to be vague about her gender identity. Devon is attracted to women, and might loosely identify as a woman, but stops short of labeling herself. Colindrez refers to the character as “she” sometimes, “they” at other times. “If I tried to say ‘Devon is this kind of person’ or even if I said she is this kind of person, I think Devon would step in and be like, ‘Nah. I haven’t done it. Why would you?’”
So, gender identity is vague. Unlabeled. That’s the answer. My pronoun choices may suck, so forgive me.
Devon is in a relationship with Toby (India Menuez). Toby’s in Marfa on a Guggenheim Fellowship, too. The topic for her doctorate and for the fellowship is about p0rnography. Many snippets of female-generated film demonstrating the female gaze come into the series around her character.
Toby goes to the man camp where the men work the oil fields. She strips naked and plunks herself down on the earth as a protest against what the men do to the earth. She broadcasts her protest. It goes viral. Devon heads to the man camp to try to get her to stop. Finally the police show up to arrest her.
Dick and Sylvere have a long drunken conversation. Sylvere explains to Dick that the letters aren’t really about him. They are about desire. Dick complains that being a sex object is humiliating. Oh, hello.
Sylvere urges Dick to just go ahead and fuck Chris so this obsession can end. Dick comes close to fulfilling this order but balks at the sight of menstrual blood. The final scene in season 1 is Chris walking down the road with menstrual blood running down her leg. No image could be more female. No image could be less about of the male gaze.
The sexual connection between Chris and Sylvere sizzled with so much chemistry. When Chris and Dick tried to come together it was as if they were play-acting the connection. The chemistry just wasn’t there. The passion, the lust, the creativity, the art – it was all in the letters.
Everyone in Marfa read the letters. Dick couldn’t take all the attention. He quit as head of the art institute and left the job to his assistant Paula (Lily Mojekwu). Jubilant, she takes down all the hard-edged, rigid male art in the institute and puts up a new installation of women’s art.
My favorite episode of season 1 was “A Short History of Weird Girls.” Paula, Devon, Toby, and Chris all write Dear Dick letters. This gives us a look into their backstories.
Series creator Jill Soloway has spoken a number of times on disrupting the male gaze in film. The theme of I Love Dick is women’s sexuality and desire through the female gaze. Many art pieces and film clips that exemplify the female gaze are inserted into the story in various ways. They are shown as works in the Marfa Art Institute, as fantasy sequences in various characters minds. The series is a celebration of women artists and the female gaze.
Watching I Love Dick on an iPad allows you to see what Amazon Prime calls X-Ray. It’s a visible listing of the actors in every scene, song titles and performers, and occasional bits of trivia about the film. In the case of this series, the name and artist for every piece of art and every female created film clip are shown. I suggest watching it with X-ray if you can.
Women directors who worked on I Love Dick included Andrea Arnold, Jill Soloway, and Kimberly Peirce. Jim Frohna directed one episode. Main writing credits go to Jill Soloway, Sarah Gubbins who wrote the play, and Chris Kraus who wrote the book “I Love Dick.”
If you’re curious about Chris Kraus as a writer, check out This Female Consciousness: On Chris Kraus in the New Yorker from 2015.