What do you get when you mix an amazing Andrew Scott, a non-apologetic Olivia Cooke, and a surrogacy-driven plot? The answer is the very necessary seventh episode of the Amazon Prime Original series ‘Modern Love’, which has been inspired by the legendary New York Times column of the same name.
‘Hers Was a World of One’ tugs at your heartstrings and while making you actually laugh out loud. By the time the episode ends, you may not be sure if the tears in your eyes are from laughing too hard or from being emotionally overwhelmed. It highlights Tobin’s (Andrew Scott) and Andy’s (Brandon K. Goodman) journey of becoming parents, but focuses on the relationship between them and their surrogate, Karla (Olivia Cooke). Karla is not a friend they have known their entire life or a surrogate they have hired. She is a young, homeless woman they have met through the adoption agency, and now both parties must figure out if they are the perfect fit for each other because they are going to have an open adoption.
The episode thus tackles the conventional definitions of ‘family’ and ‘love’ head on. The chemistry between Goodman and Scott is convincing from the start- but it is Cooke and Goodman who steal the scene whenever they are in the frame together. It is not that the plot takes an unexpected path- it is the way that the writing interprets that journey. The central conflict is about the soon-to-be family bonding together, and not about the characters being expected to radically change themselves. Never once is there a moment of uncertainty where Karla is wondering why she doesn’t have a stronger maternal instinct. In fact, the title itself celebrates her self-assuredness and individuality.
It doesn’t just restrict itself to the baby in question either. Tracing Karla’s pregnancy and Tobin and Andy’s nervousness, the episode gives us raw moments of interactions. In one scene, Tobin’s character complains about how Karla takes her social and political beliefs ‘too far’, and Andy asks if he is saying that because she actually acts on them. It’s almost like the show voices a lot of internal conflicts that most liberals face in everyday life. Cooke’s Karla is homeless on principle and believes that Scott’s Tobin is liberal only to the limit of convenience, while he feels that she very seriously lacks a sense of responsibility and accountability.
The show even fast-forwards to the future to prove any naysayers that may comment on how a mother’s voluntary lack of presence may impact a child absolutely wrong. Without giving too much away, it highlights both the immediate bonding between a parent and a newborn who are not biologically connected, and the fact that it is absolutely not that tough to explain any situation that has its root in love to children. Ofcourse, all is not perfect. The National Geographic wildlife documentary voice-over trope is employed at the beginning and then discarded without explanation. Not to mention, there is an extremely awkward cameo by Ed Sheeran where he seems completely lost in a frame full of phenomenal actors.
The strength of the story, however, is in the conviction with which it is told. The characters actually evolve during the episode, and the self-growth is very visible. The dialogues pose questions that go beyond parenting and surrogacy, highlighting the importance of working on relationships. Most importantly, the show does not pretend that the ‘modern’ part comes from the nature of the soon-to-be family. Instead, the writer and director go on with the understanding that such families exist and function- and put their magnifying glass not outside to highlight discrimination, but inside to highlight the dynamics, bonding, and love.