The mystifying thing about Netflix’s Love Is Blind is that it’s somehow still capable of unearthing fresh new horrors.
The contestants assembled by Netflix all seem to agree that the best way to fall in love is by immediately and ceaselessly dumping all of your trauma on another person. And if that doesn’t work, rinse and repeat with the next faceless person behind the pod wall.
The show is built on a simple gimmick: Men and women fall in love sight unseen, and marry each other (or not) at the season’s end. This raises a lot of questions; for instance, how do we fall in love? The castmates seem to have an answer I’m not totally sure psychologists would agree with. Behind the scenes, the players grapple with another big question: How do I get the most screen time? That’s a problem some of them are able to solve all too easily.
Love is Blind season five is a lot of emotional punishment
In this fifth installment, which takes place in Houston, the overarching theme that permeates seemingly every conversation, every relationship, and every major conflict on the show is trauma. It almost feels as though this group of participants decided, as a collective, that telling someone everything bad that’s ever happened to you is one of the immediate paths to love.
“I don’t think we have been vulnerable with each other,” says Lydia, one of this year’s more enigmatic participants. Lydia has curly, honey-hued hair, tan skin, and an accent her Texan suitors often find impenetrable — an annoying wrinkle when you have to woo your husband in the pods. “What is your biggest trauma in life?” she asks.
Milton, who is sitting on the other side of the wall, hears her fine. Milton is an engineer with an extensive knowledge of geology. He has long limbs and a mustache. He tells her a story about how he was once playing basketball and came down funny. His back began to hurt, and when he got it checked out, the doctors told him something was seriously wrong. His spine has the tendency to “collapse on itself,” he tells her, and his vulnerability caused a chain reaction which pushed on his organs, causing them to fail.
“I know I’m not gonna live a really long time,” Milton tells Lydia. Milton is extremely precious, as is his limited time on earth. “People that are as tall as I am live significantly shorter.”
“So you’re telling me how tall you are,” Lydia responds, cocking her head with a giggle. That giggle makes Milton say that he’s falling in love with her; he could see himself spending his condensed lifetime with her. She says she can picture the same thing, presumably imagining growing somewhat old with an amorphous but elongated blob.
Milton isn’t the only person with damage — emotional and physical — this season.
In the first set of episodes, we learn about some participants’ very serious and sometimes life-changing circumstances. This includes things like Milton’s disease but also abusive mothers, absent fathers, and a male contestant talking about how he was date-raped in Mexico. There’s Johnie, a divorced lawyer who is getting over being in love with a man who was addicted to drugs. And then there’s Izzy, who was ostracized in school for being a Christmas-eschewing Jehovah’s Witness, only to later find out that his dad, who indoctrinated him into the religion, wasn’t his biological father.
“It sounds so weird to say that I love that you have your traumas and insecurities,” says Izzy, who is excited to celebrate Christmas now, to Johnie. It is indeed unusual to tell someone you love their life-shattering experiences.
“But I guess I love that, because I have them too,” he assures her.
Advice from psychologists and therapists says sharing past traumas with your romantic partner (or potential romantic partners) can be a good thing, but they couldn’t have predicted this. Love connection by way of trauma-dump also certainly happened on previous iterations of Love Is Blind, but it never got so much attention, or happened with so many couples.
This abundance of damage-sharing makes for some odd moments — like Lydia telling Milton she will cherish his tall body and short life — but also creates some riveting cringe television. At least some of these chronic oversharers inevitably get dumped.
Telling a person who you’ve known for less than 10 days that you’re not interested in them is fairly easy in the real world. In Love Is Blind season five, though, that gets exponentially more difficult because that person has more than likely told you their deepest, darkest secrets. There’s a moment this season where you can literally watch someone fall out of love with Johnie as she talks about her drug-addled ex in the most roundabout, painful way.
This group damage-sharing sets up a secondary dynamic in which the same-sex cast members become extraordinarily close with one another. These contestants are not only dumped by strangers, but they’re then comforted by people they’ve just met. For people who may not even know one another’s names, there are pep talks that get a little too comfortable and hugs that go a little too deep. It’s all a bit bizarre, especially when you consider they’re competing with each other in the same dating pool.
What’s fascinating is that it’s difficult to tell: Is this what all these people actually believe love to be? Or is this just what happens when you are isolated from the world, segregated by sex, put in a pod, provided a lot of alcohol, and told to find the love of your life through a makeshift wall?
You can bet there’s an awful villain this season
While the spilled emotional baggage feels new this season, the show maintains its most entertaining tradition: the slow reveal of which of these people are absolute ghouls.
Last season’s honors went to Irina, who bullied the other girls with her sidekick Micah. Both those women made the series’ original villain, season one’s Jessica (whose worst crime was feeding her dog red wine), seem absolutely winsome. Finding more and more sinister antagonists feels like both a descent into the bowels of reality TV and, counterintuitively, the show’s best strategy to keep up with the high bar for drama it’s already set. Even relatively normal Jessica’s popularity eclipsed that of the show’s happy couples, as did season two villains Shaina and Shake, and season three’s Cole, a man who had flies breeding in his toilet.
Without giving too much away, there are at least three people I think will become fixtures of group texts and online conversation: JP, Stacy, and Uche.
The first two fit previous Love is Blind archetypes: the guy who shuts down and the girl who’s not like other girls (but still loves sparkles and brunch).
For some inexplicable reason, JP owns a lot of clothing — shirts, jerseys, swimsuits — that incorporate the American flag. JP seems to be aggressively into US iconography in a way that calls to mind less of an abiding love for the country’s national parks or amber waves of grain and more of an undertone of thinly restrained brutality. Although I do not know JP, I feel like he would try to inflict harm on me if he thought America wanted him to.
Stacy, who sadly does not match with JP, teaches group fitness exercise classes and goes hard on bronzer. She is the type of person who sees things in this world as either “the worst” or “amazing.” Stacy reveals to one of the men that she has an innate talent, a secret superpower if you will: She can guess men’s shoe sizes, just by looking at them.
“This guy was being a dick, and I looked at his feet and they were small, and I was like, ‘What are you, a size 6?’” Stacy tells a man who she cannot see because they are in the pods. Still, she lets him know that she assumes that his feet are bigger than a 6. Stacy’s superpower — object permanence and being able to perceive size — is objectively not that super, but she and her male match both laugh anyway.
But JP and Stacy are nothing more than henchpersons compared to the pathological egomaniac final boss known as Uche. Uche is a handsome lawyer who owns a tech company. He says his hobbies include poetry and spoken word. The more time you spend learning about Uche, the more you understand that Uche’s true hobby is emotional terrorism.
Extremely early on in the pods — which again, only last a staggeringly short 10 days, considering these people get engaged at the end — Uche asks Aaliyah, one of his matches, if she’s ever cheated. She tells him yes, that it happened two years ago, and she never told her ex. She gives him short answers, signaling that it’s not something she’s really proud of or wants to talk about. Uche then tells her that if she wants him, she has to be honest. He then begins what can only be described as a cross between therapy and water-boarding.
“You would have made yourself an honest person,” Uche tells this person he’s barely met, if only she had come clean about her cheating. He goes on to diagnose this stranger and the unknowable circumstances of her life: “You cheating on somebody and you being dishonest is about you.”
“I really hated myself for that,” she responds, giving this man to whom she owes nothing an explanation. She didn’t think that telling her ex about cheating would really add much to a relationship that was already dead in the water. She starts crying, telling Uche that she learned her lesson.
“That’s only two years ago,” Uche responds, telling her that he does not believe that she won’t cheat on him should they be released from the pods and allowed to marry. But he doesn’t simply end the interaction; he dangles the possibility of a relationship in front of her, making her beg and essentially say, “I am a terrible person and not deserving of your love, Uche, but please take pity on me because you are Uche and I am nothing but a lowly worm.”
If this is indicative of how Uche operates in the real world, it’s all the scarier because the women on Love Is Blind aren’t blinded by his beauty. They’re letting a faceless man waltz into their lives and speak to them like that! Thanks to the machinations of producers (the cast hangs out post-pods now), Uche’s rancid vibes hang over the season.
As villainous as he is, Uche is actually Love Is Blind in its purest, crystalline form.
Love Is Blind has proven itself to not actually be about whether two people who have never seen each other can find love. Nope. This season yielded the smallest amount of post-pod “engaged” couples in show history. The show’s batting average for happy, married couples remains abysmal.
Like Uche, Love Is Blind is and has always been a much more cynical bait and switch.
There’s no “winning” on this show, as the pool of “prizes” are men and women who have been picked to cause the most drama and wave the brightest of red flags. The show is really just an exercise for those at home to prove that they can spot the most dangerous people before they rip off their masks two or three episodes in.
As a loyal viewer, this show has sharpened my senses to pick these monsters out with ruthless efficiency. Love Is Blind makes it clear to watch out for emotional terrorists like Uche, to avoid Stacys who will laugh at your tiny feet, and to pity the single straight women who have to endure men like American flag-loving JP. A Love Is Blind fan isn’t blind at all, and the show has just made it easier for us all to see.
Love Is Blind is now streaming on Netflix.