I Love Dick is a show about women unlike every other show about women that has come before it. Watch us — in all of our rich multitudes of what it means to be human and female. Better yet: watch us watch you.
From the beating heart of the all-female writer's room, creator Jill Soloway births the female gaze, finally, for mainstream consumption. Her production company, Topple, is named for the action, the verb, of exactly what she is setting out to do, simply, ambitiously: bring it down. The patriarchy, that is.
The metaphor is heavy-handed — she wants us to all get it over, and over again — you are the patriarchy, Dick, in Durangos, riding a horse through town. You're manhood in its most irresistible manifestation, embodying "everything anyone has ever wanted from a late, 20th century, alpha male artist and scholar. You are a remote, mysterious, unknowable cowboy. Art historians worship you.”
And most of the Dick-worship is generated by one woman, Chris Kraus, a struggling filmmaker who’s arrived in Marfa, Texas as a tag-along to her accomplished partner Sylvere, on fellowship with Dick himself, played by the magnetically alluring Kevin Bacon. (The real Chris Kraus penned the book for which the series was based, back in the 90s.)
Within hours of their arrival, Kraus falls hard for Dick and we are witness to that desire from her obsessive, all-encompassing perspective. We have, perhaps, never seen seduction or vulnerability quite like this — the brilliance, self-doubt, self-loathing, obsession, self-love, and yes, even a reckoning with one's own monstrosity.
Sure, cinematic history scholars could point to examples of films made by women about women, but this has always been relegated to the stuff of counter-culture. The male directors get the Hollywood blockbusters; we're the unseen. Underground. The stuff of women's studies. Soloway lifts these women up by showcasing and celebrating the female filmmakers we’ve never heard of as historical footage bookending each love letter and episode.
Maya Deren is one example. Not so sure who she is? That’s sort of the point. Kraus explains: "She’s supposed to be the most important female filmmaker, and you know, and God’s honest truth I think she’s boring as shit. It’s like, impenetrable. There’s no way I can get through one without wanting to gouge my eyeballs out and — she’s considered like, you know — I like Spielberg. Spielberg, I like Scorsese. Coppola. Francis Ford. Not Sofia, Sofia Coppola with those perfect chestnut highlights. How’d you get that brunette? A lot of money."
Kraus isn’t perfection. She is one woman — a fascinating, desirable, brilliant, and compelling woman with something to say. You’ll binge her, like a tray of 10 tacos that you can’t stop devouring. (Kraus attempt this later on in the series, after a particularly explosive argument with Sylvere. The younger hipsters on fellowship sneer and mock her while salsa drips from her chin; she somehow walks off scene with their pot.)
And yet Kraus isn’t all surface, schematics, form over function, fluff — she’s meat and potatoes, spaghetti and Bourbon, too. A woman who, in one breath, tethers from insulting the second woman to ever win Best Director at Cannes for having moneyed locks, to unearthing the internal struggle of female as artist who must produce within the suffocating constraints defined by men in a man’s world: "I’m beginning to think," she says, "that there’s no such thing as a good woman filmmaker. I mean, how can you be? If you’re just raised to be invisible? Invisible. I mean, looked at. It’s a wonder. That any woman can think of herself as an artist."
I Love Dick is both a middle finger and a laugh track to the exclusive ivory tower world: "What is your syllabus?" Kraus asks. “I am post-idea” says Dick. To academia: "you should meet so-and-so, she loves the holocaust." And: “have you thought about switching to gender studies?”
The hauntingly impressive being and actor India Menuez gives us Toby, the character who is the counterpoint to Kraus: a woman of another age, time, and space even. The entirety of my own standard, conventional, made-to-order Art History & Criticism education — 4 whole years of studying white, hetero, cis men at university — might as well be reduced to Toby's one liner: “There are 500 times more female nudes in art history text books, Dick, as there are female artists."
Shall we name them? There's Matisse, Rodin, Michelangelo, Rauschenberg, Picasso, Louis Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright. There’s Jackson Pollock (but definitely not his wife, fellow painter Lee Krasner). Starchitect Robert Venturi, winner of the highest prize in architecture (but not his partner, fellow principal, and wife Denise Scott Brown). The men are the masters, the women are the footnote.
And why is this so? Is it that we lack this intrinsic talent that men possess? It’s because, simply, that we have been trampled over the course of history, says Rebecca Solnit in her work for the ages, Men Explain Things to Me. “[Women] were not allowed into the laboratory, or the library, or the conversation, or the revolution, or even the category called human.” [p.9]
It is just a show and yet is here it is, a gift, the salve to our collective metaphorical pussy-grab. It is the dressing to the wound of Ms. Rodham’s historic and profound loss. And it arrives silently in the night as a refresh on Amazon Prime’s feed, as small tile in a sea of digital squares, as Kraus herself, describes via Kathryn Hahn’s radical deliverance of a performance.
But it is not small. It is not a grain of sand. It is as close to redemption as we can get in 2017 and it happened to premiere (coincidentally, fittingly, righteously) during the very week that the Russian-collusion bombshell allegations drop from our monster-in-chief's administration.
An 8-minute short tucked into the middle in the episode 'A Short History of Weird Girls’ is the germ (and gem) of the entire series.
Toby asserts her own significance in relation to Dick's as a mere matter of circumstance, a factor having to do with sexual organs at birth and the laws of physics, time itself: "I may be nowhere near you but I am definitely getting closer.”
In the end, Kraus rejects Dick and all he represents in the quiet, final scene of the series. She leaves him, taking the dusty desert road in the heat, blood smeared down her thighs, just in case you weren't clear as to who we're talking about — the particular woman who is not a mother nor currently a bearer of children. (Broad City’s Ilana and Abby did this brilliantly, too, to hilarity. In I Love Dick, Soloway reaches deeper, wider, in a reckoning with the human condition that sees no gender — mortality itself.)
Sure, it is only a beginning. But still, this: we are here. We are here and we want nothing short of the complete and total obliteration of the patriarchal society we have inherited. We never asked for this, but we'll fix it. From the ground up, after taking a wrecking ball through.
The warning bells are ringing. Or as Toby says: “Dear Dick, your time is running out. We are not far from your doorstep.”