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Mrs. Fletcher digs deep into desire and sexuality

Kathryn Hahn and Casey Wilson
Photo: Sarah Shatz (HBO)
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In HBO’s new series Mrs. Fletcher—based on the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta, who also pens the pilot and finale—Kathryn Hahn plays Eve Fletcher, a single mother who finds herself thinking about sex all the time after her son Brendan leaves for college. Eve doesn’t want to be “Mrs. Fletcher.” Eve wants to be in control of her life and, in particular, in control of her sexuality. In seven episodes that focus on Eve’s and Brendan’s desires, with several excellent subplots that weave throughout the episodes, Mrs. Fletcher unfolds a touching, funny, sometimes deeply sad, and sometimes outrageously horny story of human sexuality.

The initial premise leans on some stereotypes about sexuality and motherhood, implying that Eve isn’t ready to have her sexual awakening until she’s no longer actively mothering. But once the story moves forward, Mrs. Fletcher opens into a much more nuanced and convincing story about desire, intimacy, and human connection. Hahn injects specificity into the role, turning those broader strokes into much finer ones with a performance that teems with emotion but also sensuality. Because Mrs. Fletcher is indeed obsessed with sex.

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A certain anthology series recently dropped that supposedly examines the intricacies of romance and relationships, but as far as “modern love” goes, Mrs. Fletcher actually tackles a more expansive spectrum. Mrs. Fletcher is less concerned with romance and more concerned with physical desire—though it doesn’t necessarily divorce the two. The show contemplates sex within a marriage, sex outside of a marriage, casual sex, awkward sex, hot sex, queer sex, group sex, teen sex. Eve is consumed with thoughts of sex, and that seeps into the show’s visual storytelling. Her fantasies are visceral and immersive. Every episode is directed by a woman—including Carrie Brownstein, Gillian Robespierre, Liesl Tommy, and Nicole Holofcener—and it shows.

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Eve’s fantasies often get cracked open by reality. When she’s alone, she’s in control. When other people enter the picture, their own desires and behaviors fracture the fantasy. A scene where Eve plays both parts in a sexual situation involving heightened power dynamics is uncommonly compelling for a premium-cable depiction of masturbation, and it serves a purpose, delving into the duality of Eve’s desire. She wants to fuck and be fucked. Mrs. Fletcher so often paints a much more detailed picture of human sexuality than its logline suggests. This isn’t simply a story about a single mother realizing she can be sexy. She’s realizing there are so many things that she wants.

Jackson White and Owen Teague
Photo: Sarah Shatz (HBO)
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The show does struggle occasionally to make Brendan’s narrative as compelling as Eve’s. For the most part, the writing does strike the right balance between giving backstory and layers to Brendan’s fuckboy behavior without over sympathizing with him. He’s a more convincing and better developed version of the dickish teen boy with daddy issues than, say, Euphoria’s Nate. And even though they’re apart for most of the series, the mother-son dynamic between Eve and Brendan gets at the ways toxic masculinity contaminates like a weed. By the time Eve tries to outright tell Brendan how to treat women, it’s too late.

The supporting characters and other relationship dynamics on the show also sharply interact with its themes. Jen Richards gives a standout performance as a writer and teacher trying to pull her students’ inner wants to the surface, and her arc also touches on what it’s like to date when trans. Casey Wilson plays the role she’s born to play—a wine mom—with humor but also depth, tensions in her marriage unfolding on the periphery. Owen Teague and Hahn both make the building attraction between 19-year-old Julian and 45-year-old Eve much more than some cougar fantasy. Theirs is the most surprising and poignant relationship dynamic of all.

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Even more striking than its obsession with sex is Mrs. Fletcher’s obsession with what comes before. The show gives a lot of attention to the dance of flirtation. Characters flirt in awkward, tense, endearing, hot, and cringe-worthy ways. The show digs into the idea of flirtation as a performance, of sex as a performance. Grief, trust, friendship, and family are inextricable from its stories about sex. Because ultimately Mrs. Fletcher prods human connection in all forms, breaking open fantasies to look at what’s beneath.

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