It’s a truth universally acknowledged that each new season of “Love Is Blind” will be messier than the previous one. If, for some reason, this isn’t a given, then the ample evidence Season 5 tosses on the table tells us it should be. But (pardon this metaphorical mash-up of literary references) in the same way that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, every season’s trash fire burns a bit differently.
This Houston-based fifth season has been one for books — and not in a good way. Past seasons featured absolute villains and aspirational love stories; this one has a few of the former and a paucity of the latter, yielding only two altar-bound couples out of the three who made it to the engagement stage.
But marriage is no longer the bounty viewers should expect from this “experiment,” which at this point holds no mystery for anyone. Neither the audience nor the contestants, groups of men and women sequestered from the outside world and made to live in separate groups.
Instead, its highest and best service is in providing a stupendous realization of the virtue of valuing its figurative blindness in Milton Jackson, the 24-year-old petroleum engineer no one — and I mean no one — would have predicted as the frontrunner for this season’s Prince That Was Promised (by Disney, not George R.R. Martin).
To review, each contestant interacts with their fellow male and female contestants face-to-face, meeting potential marriage partners of the opposite sex in “pods” divided by an opaque wall. The idea, as presented by co-hosts Nick and Vanessa Lachey, is to find out whether the emotional connection these individuals forge supersedes physical attraction — and if it’s sustainable enough to take them to the altar after merely four weeks of knowing one another.
This assumes each person has the emotional intelligence to go the distance — any distance — with a person they not only desire but also have only gotten to know over a compressed period of time. As many singletons would confess, it’s hard out in these streets.
This is where the current season of “Love Is Blind” distinguishes itself as a manual for “How and Who Not to Date” more than others, beginning with a masterfully edited deception. In the pods, we watched Uche Okoroha, a muscular, well-coifed attorney, pull into the frontrunner position in the unofficial pageant of desirability. Uche seemed to know a little about everything and was popular among the guys, as was Jared “JP” Pierce, the avuncular firefighter another man went on to admiringly refer to as his Captain America.
Then we got to know them by their actions. A few installments into the 10-episode season, it came to light that Uche and a female contender, Lydia Velez Gonzalez, dated before entering the show’s pods.
Uche Okoroha and Lydia Velez Gonzalez in “Love is Blind” (Courtesy of Netflix)Subsequent episodes reveal Uche to be an ogre fronting as a prince. He isn’t the only one. Before they lay eyes on each other, JP hits it off with Taylor Rue, who might as well be a St. Pauli Girl poster model come to life. Then he meets her IRL.
Instead of their fairytale evolving into the “love at first sight after 10 or 11 deep conversations” phase, he clams up on their all-inclusive resort getaway, the prize for the couples who make it to the engagement stage. He kisses her like a third grader trying out the act for the first time in a game of spin the bottle. It’s weird! But not as bizarre as his reasoning for growing cold, which is straight out of a web forum for incels.
“I feel like if you represented yourself . . . without any makeup, it would have been better,” he tells Taylor, explaining that he first saw her with a fully made-up face, before adding: “It felt like you were fake.” His solution? She should stop wearing makeup, and then he could bring himself to love her again.
Then there is Milton, a 6-foot, 7-inch beanpole who loves playing Pokémon and appears to take his facial hair manscaping cues from a walrus.
Wisely, Taylor chooses to continue her lifelong relationship with looking however the heck she wants over whatever horrors might lie ahead with JP, who it should be pointed out, has a wardrobe resplendent with stars and stripes attire.
Then there is Milton, a 6-foot, 7-inch beanpole who loves playing Pokémon and appears to take his facial hair manscaping cues from a walrus. There’s also Izzy Zapata, a smoking hot sensitive dude who people suspect may be hiding terrible credit and possible lack of employment. Those can be transformed, much like a person’s physique.
Behavioral characteristics, however, are fairly immutable. Regardless of what people claim about being able to change, the human tendency is to evolve and mature, much in the way a leopard can become a better hunter but can’t swap its spots for stripes. In this, time is on Milton’s side, as well as Lydia’s, to whom he becomes engaged. Lydia also becomes Uche’s target in the season’s seventh and eighth episodes, creating a situation that tests Milton’s loyalty.
Currently, we’re awash in data concerning our masculinity crisis, addressing the healthy and emotional wages of male loneliness and a lack of healthy definitions concerning what it means to be a good man. “Love Is Blind,” a series that has blessed us with an assortment of jerks over the years, isn’t going to ameliorate that problem.
In Milton, however, we have someone who trusts his brain, his heart and — here’s the best part — his mother’s wisdom. Remember your elder’s advice about judging a man’s suitability as a partner by how he treats his mother? Watch it in action through Milton and how he deals with other men who don’t have his best interests at heart.
See, Uche found a connection with another woman, Aaliyah Cosby, who also forged a fast friendship with Lydia on the women’s side of the pods. Lydia’s overfamiliarity with Aaliyah — combined with Uche’s self-righteous reaction to Aaliyah’s confession of having cheated on a past boyfriend — led Aaliyah to flee the “experiment” and Uche. As it turns out, that was the right call.
Remember your elder’s advice about judging a man’s suitability as a partner by how he treats his mother? Watch it in action through Milton.
Uche, however, isn’t someone who can let things go. He attends the gathering producers stage each season that brings together the engaged couples with the people they broke up with in the pods, along with a few friends they made along the way.
In this season’s get-together, Uche confronts Lydia and states his wild accusations to her face, accusing her of stalking him on Instagram before “following” him onto the show as if they’re co-starring in a “Fatal Attraction” reboot. When Lydia dismisses Uche, walking away angrily, he tries to drag Lydia to the other women in the pod. That doesn’t work, to a disastrous degree.
Then he pulls Milton aside, which Lydia and many viewers don’t appreciate before Milton reassures us all with a “trust me.”
Milton listens to Uche’s insistence that Lydia was always there for him — not Milton. He’s only looking out for his bro, you see.
All the while, Milton gazes into the distance thoughtfully before responding.
“So my mom always told me, like, your perception is like your reality,” he says to Uche. “You and her have very different perceptions. You guys are both grown . . . I understand there’s nuances and things are situational. Like, you know, this isn’t Pythagorean theorem going on, but this is like multi-dimensional calculus. You’re in the X direction, she’s in a Y direction and I’m the Z direction. Like, I’m not even adjacent. I’m just like on a different parallel. It’s all perception.”
Milton Johnson in “Love is Blind” (Courtesy of Netflix)Unless you’re an expert in algebra, the natural response to this is . . . huh? Milton is relying on that. He stares down a natural-born emotional con artist and responds with mathematics, empirical data analysis and reason — which isn’t wielded forcefully enough these days.
Later, as Milton is comforting Lydia, he tells her that he has been a douchebag before, too. “What did I tell you about getting so emotional? Act more like Milton,” he says as he’s holding Lydia’s face between his hands. “You’re too strong. You’re too big. Look at you, you’re a f**king grown-a** woman. You’re a bada**. You have a great a** job. You make great-a** money. You’re independent as f**k. F**k everybody else. Who cares? We’ll make it through.”
Literary professors and devoted Austenites will be the first to tell you the famous opening line of “Pride and Prejudice” was never meant to be taken at face value. You know, the whole business that goes “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Certainly, this notion is less applicable today than it was in Jane Austen’s lifetime, as both single men and single women can be in possession of a good fortune nowadays.
That doesn’t stop people from seeking that trip to the altar, despite “Love Is Blind” proving how tricky that quest can be. Lydia, a geologist, initially wrote off Milton despite discovering that this potential suitor also loves rocks. They’re both nerds. She is also 30 at the time of this season’s filming, making her around six years older than him. (Netflix’s press notes list their current ages as 25 and 32.)
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Their final big date together takes place in the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals at Houston Museum of Natural Science, which would have been perfection if not for the quarrel that erupts at dinner over Lydia’s emotional reaction to an ex who accused her of being a stalker.
Milton isn’t perfect, understand. Their argument starts when Lydia complains that Milton doesn’t pick up after himself, and he counters that he doesn’t appreciate her explosive reaction to Uche’s insults.
This reveals the flaw in Milton’s logic: He wants her to be herself, only less. This is another shade of the whole “just don’t wear makeup” business that was JP and Taylor’s undoing. As such, there comes a point during their meal where Milton goes too far, and Lydia walks away from the table to collect herself.
When she returns, we witness something not often shown in this series or any other reality romance competition. By most relationship standards, it’s a solid resolution to a relatively sane, if heated argument. Instead of digging in, Milton offers these words: “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. “ This isn’t a proper apology, but most people don’t know that, so we can let it slide.
Love may not be blind, but there may be an element of calculus in succeeding at it.
Lydia diplomatically responds with “I’m sorry that I don’t abide by your expectations . . . and I’m sorry that I’ve done things that you don’t like. But that’s me. This is me. I feel a lot. I am loud. I am passionate. I am emotional. God forbid that what my mind doesn’t say, my face is going to say. And I want to stand by you, to support you with any decision that you want to do, but I need you to understand me.”
They end the dinner by exchanging “I love yous” and holding hands.
When all is said and done, Milton and Lydia may not go the distance and exchange the two words that elude so many on this show: “I do.” Nevertheless, they’re an unintended successful byproduct of a so-called “experiment” in desperate need of reconfiguration. In a show that allows the audience to judge its participants’ chances based on their appearances before they get to do so, Milton demonstrates it’s better to be Captain Atom than anyone’s toxic fantasy of what Captain America looks like.
Love may not be blind, but there may be an element of calculus in succeeding at it. In that way, maybe many of us would be better off acting like Milton.
The fifth season finale of “Love Is Blind” streams Friday, Oct. 13 on Netflix.
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