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(Note: This interview contains specific details from the Made For Love season finale.)
HBO Max’s high-concept series Made For Love illustrated a surprisingly powerful story about a romance going awry. It’s based on the book of the same name by Alissa Nutting, who serves as an executive producer and writer, along with Christina Lee. In the dramedy’s eight-episode first season (all available on HBO Max), Hazel Green (Cristin Milioti) attempts to escape a decade’s worth of emotional manipulation from her marriage to rich genius Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), who puts a chip in her brain without consent to track her thoughts and feelings. The finale, “Let’s Meet,” finally gives Hazel a momentary win, only to pull the rug out from under her when she chooses to return to Byron’s Hub—a technologically advanced, isolated mansion—to try and save her father Herbert (Ray Romano).
Made For Love’s sci-fi elements and dark humor provide a light balance to Hazel’s challenges over the course of season one. But in the season finale, much of that is stripped away to put the spotlight on the performances by Milioti and Magnussen as their characters confront the harsh realities of their toxic relationship. The A.V. Club spoke to Milioti about preparing for the poignant episode, how she views Hazel’s choices, and what the show might tackle in a possible sophomore season.
The A.V. Club: Hazel begins the finale by telling Byron she’s never going back to the Hub. In the last scene, she’s back there to try and save her dad’s life. What did you think of this decision, and how did you want your performance to help audiences understand it?
Cristin Milioti: A part of Hazel that I was excited to explore is that she doesn’t think before she acts. She just does it. I am someone who thinks way too much, so I am glad I got to play someone who acts on impulse. One of the things about working on that finale is that her intention when it starts is to get in and get out. She has little resources emotionally but she overcomes it, she finally wins. Then in the 11th hour when he reveals the information on Herbert’s health, she reverts back to—not to put a point on it—but her inner child. It’s not implicitly stated on the show, but I toyed with it in my performance.
When [Hazel] escapes the Hub, she is almost literally reborn; she bursts through the earth. She has to return to the point where she got arrested developmentally and she returns to her childhood self and the place she stopped developing when it was too painful and she was alone in it, before she just got married and went to the Hub. I think there is something in what she does for Herbert in the end that, as fractured as they are, she doesn’t think much about it. It is still the arrested version of Hazel that’s saying, “but then I’ll have no one.”
Thinking like that is the best way I could get into it, that here’s this woman who is so profoundly alone. Ten years of no friends, no contact with the outside world, and when she finally gets out, she is alone in her relationship with her dad initially. They begin to find their way back toward some level of healing and the stakes of realizing she will truly be alone in the world without any resources or protection or love—it’s too much for her to bear. That’s why I think she makes the decision.
AVC: What was the experience of going through all those emotions, especially in the diner scene between Hazel and Byron in the finale?
CM: It was such a dream. I enjoy and deeply love TV and film but I come from theater, and so does Billy and so do Noma [Dumezweni] and Dan [Bakkedahl]. We’ve all got a background in live performance. It’s something I still have to get used to sometimes, the piecemeal of it all. The fact that we were able to shoot this scene in order, like we started when I enter the diner and we finished it in a row, so it was like a play. Billy and I were able to play with the dynamics and calibrations of what these characters are expressing.
It’s one of my favorite things about this scene: You see her take the power back and then she is faced with this decision in the same breath. The minute her finger touches the finish line, she is dragged back. I find that grayness very lifelike in a show that lives in a heightened world. But now she’s being dragged back into a different Hub because she’s learned things and has more knowledge. It’s not quite like returning to the same thing.
AVC: Yeah, it definitely blurs the lines because their conversation is very impactful. He’s honest with her for the first time and she tells him off, but then she has to do an impossible thing.
CM: I love the cat-and-mouse of the scene. Hazel doesn’t get a lot of moments of victory or catharsis; it’s always by the skin of her teeth. What appealed to me in the first half of the season is that when she’s on the run, it’s if she were in Kill Bill without any of the skills. Now she has one moment of victory. But in a way, and if you want to get really into it, she essentially does to her dad what Byron did to her. That’s another part of it I had to work on. When I first read it, I was like, “Whoa!” It’s a cycle of abuse, but it’s grayer than that. Is it her right to do what she did? It’s not. She’s serving her own interest; her and her dad never even talk about that. It’s tricky and I like that.
AVC: She doesn’t tell him that he is living in the Hub now, part of which looks just like his actual home. How do you think that decision should be interpreted?
CM: My hope is that it is different for everyone, it’s also the type of content I enjoy as an audience member and as an actor. There is so much to be discussed here about what’s right and what’s wrong, and there is always an emotional response when you are faced with losing someone you love. People do wild things in the face of loss, so I hope there is a rainbow of reactions.
AVC: One of the most pivotal lines of dialogue is when Hazel tells Byron, “I gave you all my vulnerabilities, and you gave me none. The system was built for you.” It succinctly dwells on her challenges and is resonant of real-life toxic relationships. Why do you think it was important to focus on these issues?
CM: That line really struck me as one of the few ones when she stands tall in her clarity. She is completely cut off from how she thinks and feels normally because that’s how she’s had to live for so long. These moments—she has it when she flies the plane too [in episode seven, “I Want To Feel Normal”]— where she realizes, “Oh my god, this is how I feel” or “I like this” are pinpricks of light through the fog she’s been in.
AVC: She comes to term with that realization and, like you said, she doesn’t think, so she says it out loud, but it’s so true and powerful.
CM: Yeah, I think that dialogue is one of those flashes she has that has been gestating in the back of her mind, in the same way we tend to process things without realizing we’re doing it. Sometimes it feels like a part of our brain goes into their workshop and works on something while we’ve just been out with friends or something, and then realization just dawns.
AVC: The end of season one was fairly open-ended. Do you have ideas for what you’d want to explore in a potential second season?
CM: I have a lot of ideas but it’s ultimately it’s up to [showrunners] Christina Lee and Alissa Nutting. One of the things I’ve loved about season one is how Hazel’s life in the Hub was a performance within a performance. Now the challenge is even bigger; it’s the Russian doll of performing because she has to lie to her dad and to Byron on some level with the chip in her head.
AVC: Let’s not forget Judiff [Kym Whitley] has a lot of useful recordings.
CM: I’m excited to see how Judiff uses all the information she has on the outside because she has no access to any of the people anymore. How on earth do you prove it then? Even Byron’s employees who aren’t loyal to him now, like Fiffany [Dumezweni] and Herringbone [Bakkedahl], who have knowledge of the tech are stuck in a cube and being observed. Mostly, I think she finally knows who he is and it’s the first time they’ve been intimate in that sense. How is this fact going to affect how he keeps her in a fishbowl?
AVC: There’s a lot to tackle.
CM: There really is because the challenge is how do you plan everything with that chip. How do you keep secrets from yourself? How is Hazel going to keep up this double life with her dad to save him? I think there are endless interesting takes, so it’s a dream for me as a performer. I hope we get to explore them. I want to get her to the boss level of the video game. She’s back in, but she’s armed now with knowledge and has her dad. I think she’s stronger than she thinks she is. It sounds like a tagline but I mean it.