When Marcus had that expensive sushi dinner with Kian back in episode two, he talked briefly about how Emily was the one who held his life together. She was a steady presence in his life for so long, a permanent fixture that rooted him firmly in the ground. And now he’s floating around with no idea how to exist independently. The love — or attraction, at least — for his ex-wife might have dissipated, but I think what he desires more is companionship above all. He needs someone to give him direction.
Not that this is exactly a healthy way of thinking. As we’ve already discovered through Marcus’s failed hookups post-Emily, this man is not ready for a relationship. But this is Love Life, so if he’s going to sleep with someone as a temporary salve for his loneliness, then so be it. Like a barnacle attaching itself to the first stable surface it comes into contact with, Marcus will gravitate toward the first person that shows even a hint of interest in him. (Honestly, big mood.) This week, it’s Ola Adebayo (an outstanding Ego Nwodim), an aspiring playwright hoping to break out of Houston’s local theater scene.
They hit it off right away — even if their first conversation feels more polite than flirtatious, like with Mia (more on her later) — and they quickly fall into a relationship. As the narration explains, Marcus doesn’t feel that same intense and immediate attraction as he did with Mia, but he’s willing to let those feelings grow: “Although Marcus didn’t exactly feel fireworks, he told himself that a spark was enough. For a spark might eventually lead to a fire, whereas in his experience, fireworks had only ever led to an explosion.” At this point, there’s an interesting parallel between his burgeoning relationship with Ola and his marriage with Emily. When Marcus opened up to Yogi about falling out of love with Emily, he mentioned that the “spark” wasn’t there anymore. The word choice feels important. Perhaps Marcus is falling into the same cycle of having a partner just to avoid being single.
In that same conversation with Yogi, his friend advised him that love is work — it doesn’t always come naturally but requires effort and perseverance to keep it alive. Marcus takes on this advice somewhat, making compromises and being vulnerable (to a point) with Ola. But these compromises come at the cost of himself. It’s not long before he offers Ola his apartment as a refuge while hers is uninhabitable, then she gives up her lease altogether, and then she makes his home hers. Ola is the kind of spiritual person who owns crystals and has a psychic (not sees, has). Maybe she lives by The Pattern and No Bones Day too. It shows in Marcus’s apartment, too — a plate of crystals sit on a table and patterned tapestries are draped everywhere. Then she rubs off on Marcus, too, culminating in the appearance of a gaudy belt that Ida and Yogi find ridiculous.
Again, he’s falling back into old habits that first began with Emily, being in a relationship for the sake of having one, without the genuine feelings attached to it. The spark did not turn into a fire. And when Marcus runs into Mia once again — the explosive fireworks — that knocks him out of his reverie. Your body tells you what the mind will ignore, and in Marcus’s case, it’s his dick telling him he’s not in love with Ola. Perhaps the largest indicator that he needs to break up with her is when he can’t perform, so they take a raincheck on sex for the next day. (This was, if you can recall, something that Marcus and Emily used to do too, though they were delaying sex out of drudgery tiredness rather than erectile deficiency.) Marcus and Ola unsuccessfully experiment with sex to see if it will fix their problem, but deep down, he knows this is happening because Mia won’t leave his head. In a desperate attempt, he gets caught knocking one out in the shower to the thought of Mia joining him in the water, and Ola breaks it off instantly. So ends this chapter with Ola.
As we’re nearing the halfway point, it has to be said that William Jackson Harper is proving himself with every episode that he’s a sensational romantic lead. He’s so effortlessly charming and skilled at capturing the giddiness of infatuation. You can practically feel the butterflies yourself every time he smiles at his phone. And he can be smooooth too; I’ll be thinking about the way Marcus is so quick to establish that his invitation for drinks was more than just platonic for a while. I appreciate Love Life because it allows its protagonists to be complex, as its years-long trajectory maps out when and how they find the self-awareness to see what’s wrong with their lives and what needs to be changed. And with Harper as the lead, he elevates the rom-com hero. He’s not just charismatic and endearing, but a real mess of a person who, in time, will grow and mend.
• I know I keep going on about Marcus’s lack of identity, but this episode takes place nine months after his visit back home, and he still hadn’t bought furniture in all that time. Tell me that isn’t the sign of someone who doesn’t know what he likes!
• Trae Lang, the sci-fi writer who rejected having his book changed, has finally accepted Marcus as his editor after being caught selling books instead of writing them. At a time when Marcus is wildly unsure of himself, taking Trae under his wing has given him an air of confidence that he can’t express with anyone else. This idea of Marcus having many façades keeps reappearing again and again.
• Trae about his MFA classmate who got published: “She wrote about a rich lady in domestic peril. You write about a rich woman in domestic peril, the book’s gonna sell.” The HBO drag!
• I didn’t mind that flashy belt Ola gifted Marcus, to be honest — it’s cute!