The age old adage comes to life in the second episode of Amazon Prime’s Modern Love, “The Night Girl Finds a Day Boy,” when Zoe (Zoe Chao), a woman with delayed sleep phase syndrome—a circadian rhythm disorder that keeps her awake at night and asleep during the day—begins a relationship with Jordan (Gbenga Akinnagbe, The Deuce), a teacher who lives life the way most of the world does. But while opposites attract, do they stick together? Zoe and Jordan find out the hard way.
Unfortunately, this episode did not start out strong, nor did it end the same, and while the previous episode of the season could potentially affect the perception of this individual installment, there are also objective elements to the episode that make it fall flat, which is honestly more heartbreaking than the conflict itself.
When introduced to the audience and to each other, the couple felt just as unsure about who they were supposed to be and what kind of dynamic they were meant to have. Their initial interaction had an awkward sincerity about it, Zoe shy and Jordan unsure of whether continuing to talk to her would be welcome, but the viewer is left as unsure as Jordan himself, and while Zoe herself has personality and intrigue, the rocky start makes it hard to be sucked into their relationship; though the subsequent scenes following Zoe as she narrates her own nighttime existence establishes her character and gives enough to keep the viewers invested in her.
That being said, their first date was similarly stilted, at least until Zoe comes clean about her condition. Most first dates are awkward, especially between virtual strangers, but it was difficult to determine how the two felt about each other, and while that isn’t an inherent problem for a first date, it takes some time throughout the various scenes of them developing their relationship before it truly feels as though they have an actual connection, which doesn’t bode well for a romance.
However, the main issue is this episode as a whole suffers from a lack of conflict resolution. Conflicts are inherently messy, they cause problems between the characters and come in a variety of forms, and while the conflicts themselves were not at all the problem—in fact, the pivotal conflict was extremely believable and likely reflected audience experience—but it’s the way it was handled and resolved that was the issue.
It also fails to resolve any developments initially set up, Zoe’s relationship with Vanessa being a perfect example. She goes from trying to avoid her at a diner, with Vanessa clearly feeling as though Zoe doesn’t care enough to know her, to accompanying her to an appointment to make sure she’s not alone. While it’s clear they’re not best friends and Zoe is still socially awkward, it was like being fed a breadcrumb with an entire loaf just barely out of sight.
While the crux of this episode is that Zoe is different and she shouldn’t be forced to change, which is true, especially when it comes to her disorder, there were many points where it seemed as though there was the simple fact that she didn’t know how to politely interact with people, and that clearly grated Jordan, but rather than communicating so she could have actually grown as a character—as Jordan makes a great point in that she never accommodates him— it was lumped in with her condition then brushed under the rug when they made up, which failed to accommodate her either; it’s not healthy and puts a damper on the otherwise emotional reconciliation.
All these problems, especially Zoe’s aforementioned lack of character growth, set up the foundation for the fall, but this scene’s resolution is the final Jenga block that topples the tower of this episode’s success.
At the climax of the episode, the two get into an argument. During. Jordan claims that, if Zoe were actually sick, he would take care of her. This leads him to admit that he believes Zoe’s medical condition is a “convenient” way for her to get out of having to interact socially. This conversation likely happens with most couples who have to accommodate a chronic illness, and it’s actually crucial that they had the conversation wherein Jordan explained his perspective, but rather than develop upon this when they get back together, or even just apologize or truly acknowledge how his perspective and rhetoric invalidated Zoe and negatively impact their relationship in the future, all he says is, “I was pissed,” and they move on. Individuals with chronic illnesses, especially those with invisible illnesses, are constantly forced to explain and defend themselves, there’s no way a couple can continue on happily ever after if one partner can easily dismiss their belittling of the other’s experience.
When Zoe finished explaining the fairytale, it wasn’t immediately clear whether they would end up together. The concept was so unsustainable that it sounded more like a tragedy that they would need to adapt in order to make work, and while we are meant to believe things work out—and every relationship is different, so this is in no way unrealistic in the grand scheme of things—the ending failed to be a satisfying place to step away from the couple’s story; carrying each other around while the other sleeps in public is not viable, and it seemed more like another montage before yet another conflict which could, hopefully, lead to a genuine, collaborative resolution.
While the issues in this episode were near impossible to overlook, the story and execution itself was still enjoyable. The visuals were incredible and provided a holistic experience of the narrative as they conveyed the stark contrast between the couple and their lives. The characters did feel real, Chao and Akinnagbe both doing a fantastic job portraying them as individuals, as well as a couple who could blend in with any modern friend group or contemporary fiction; Chao’s ending monologue in particular was an objectively strong performance and, while the story didn’t seem conclusive, she managed to tie everything together with her rendition of the fairytale and give even a little closure.
This episode wasn’t a horrible by any means, but it could have been better, and with an interracial couple at the forefront, and the importance of POC representation within the industry, it’s heartbreaking that it wasn’t as strong as its predecessor.