Nick and Vanessa Lachey’s most recent show, Love Is Blind, has been a staple in the reality TV firmament for the last 10-15 years, for reasons that need not worry us now, or probably ever. This was (and will continue to be, at least until 2024, as a fourth and fifth season has just been ordered) a show in which strangers communicate from single “pods” without being able to see each other until various couples profess their love, become engaged, and then meet and get to know one another for a month before actually-factually getting married.
I distinctly recall the inaugural season. “Absurd, repulsive, adorable, toxic, and wholesome at times – and addicting as hell throughout…,” I wrote. Crack-meth.” I also wondered whether there was a more brutal or efficient way to exploit emotional frailties, profane the terrified, make the private and valuable public and worthless, and turn it into voyeuristic rating bait.
We finally have an answer, thank goodness for my tiny rhetorical socks! “Yes, absolutely,” says the answer, which comes in the shape of The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On. The Lachey’s introduce us to six couples in this 10-part bin fire, but by my instantly nervous and fevered count, there are at least 302, all of whom have one thing in common: one of each pair wants the other to put a ring on it or call their relationship off. Shit or Get Off the Pot would have been a better title, but unfortunately, the United States still clings to its Puritan past in bizarre ways, so the decorous choice provided is to marry or go on.
I can’t possibly remember 604 – or even 12 – participant names at my age, especially since they’re all completely interchangeable, so I’ve labeled them blanks 1-6A/B (for the men) and blimps 1-6A/B (for the ladies). Although a second season with an LGBT cast has been promised, the Lacheyean universe has yet to embrace homosexuality. The letters “A” and “B” stand for blondness and “not-blondness, respectively, and that is essentially all that is presented in this episode.
To be honest, several blanks stick out (Jake for being nine parts puppy and apparently as nice a guy as reality TV has ever unearthed; Colby for being the only male ultimatum-giver and for having Garth Brooks vibes even before he puts on a Stetson in the final episode). A couple of the blimps are also noteworthy: Alexis is a flint-eyed, lantern-jawed blond who wants a ring in exchange for the cooking, cleaning, and laundry she does for her live-in blank (“Marriage is a financial and emotional transaction”), and April is a quick, funny, genuine charmer of 23 who shouldn’t want to get married any more than… any quick, funny, charming 23-year-old.
Anyway. The couples are separated and invited to relax by the pool, eat supper, drink cocktails, and see who they “spark” with. Then they choose a new spouse with whom they will live for three weeks before going back to their sweetheart and deciding whether to shit or – I mean, marry or go on.
Everything goes precisely as you would expect, which is to say terribly. The Lachey/Netflix accountants are cracking open the champagne in their toxic lairs, contestants are sobbing, viewers are hoarse from screaming at the screen (the utter fury on Alexis’ face when she chisels out of Colby – during their second drink – that he doesn’t see himself marrying her lives with me still), and contestants are sobbing. The crack-meth mix is still as strong as ever. The reptilian part of your brain is hopelessly invested after 15 minutes, and your higher functions can only pray for the universe’s hastened heat death before the remaining nine and three-quarter hours are over.
It’s a complete disaster. Obviously, there is no moral basis for purposely putting someone in danger of succumbing to temptation (I believe it is one of the tenets in fact of quite a few world religions). It’s a waste of time in terms of creativity. It’s not educationally or intellectually sound. Every single phrase that comes out of someone’s mouth says that we should create a pyre and bury feminism on top of it because the struggle is clearly lost.
But the entertainment, oh, the entertainment. The escapism, oh the escapism. Oh, the glory of letting your hatred for this and that blank, as well as your love for blermp 2A, who appears to be making her way towards her rightful place on the arm of new block 6B, flow freely through you, washing away the day’s mental debris and leaving you cleansed, empty, and ready for the next day’s accumulation of cares and woes. You can’t move on because it’s trash.