One Nail at a Time
Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane) has sex for money. He’s a whore and a high school baseball coach, and a father and an ex-husband. He’s trying to raise money to rebuild his burned-down house, to get back his kids, to recapture his lost youth and so on. But more than all of those things (and despite all of those things), he’s deeply uncomplicated.
That’s kind of the problem with HBO’s Hung, yet another cable series about middle class financially and morally bankrupt characters trying to make ends meet. Sure, this second season asks some well-worn philosophical questions about the nature of right and wrong (as did the first season), but as the center of that debate, Ray signifies nothing more compelling than a very big dick.
Make no mistake, big dicks can operate as powerful symbols of masculinity, insecurity, and the American Dream (see: Boogie Nights, in which Jane also appeared), but while Hung has its stage set to see some of these types of stories play out, scene after scene positions Ray as a cipher for other characters—mostly female—to hash out their own familiar dramedy problems. (And in this way, Hung is also grossly hetero-normative; neither it nor Ray will not even consider sex with men.) Whether in loveless marriages, newly widowed or just over-the-hill, each of Ray’s clients seems to believe that his self-assured “specialty service” is some kind of panacea for her particular female angst. Without proper unpacking, it’s a situation that’s as demoralizing as it is an oversimplified.
A fine example of this is Jessica (Anne Heche), Ray’s ex-wife and the mother to his teen-aged twins (Ronnie Saxton and Sianoa Smit-McPhee). Despite Ray’s physical prowess and her affection for him, she left him for the more responsible Ronnie (Eddie Jemison), a dermatologist who promises a big bank account, free Botox injections, and little to no sexual satisfaction. As Jessica struggles to connect with her kids (though Ray does this with ease), she feels alienated by everyone around her, including her Polish mother (Marylouise Burke), who literally speaks another language. The series contrives to make Jessica such a sad, “lost person” that it can only point right to Ray’s crotch as the answer to her bevy of troubles.
Even Hung‘s female characters searching for empowerment outside of Ray’s pants, are weighted down with the same gendered baggage. A poet and a pimp, Tanya (played brilliantly by Jane Adams) is looking for financial stability and mutual respect out of her business partnership with Ray. Ostensibly needy, she fidgets beneath a thrift store wardrobe and makes reference to her grad school salad days, but she also exhibits a calm and grace that none of the other women in Ray’s life posses. But without Ray, she can’t conceive of her own value—that is, until a wealthy client gifts her a designer sweater, one that Tanya “couldn’t possibly afford.” Standing in front of her bedroom mirror, she models it with a renewed self-confidence. However unfortunate, it stands alone as the series’ only suggestion so far of female satisfaction that doesn’t involve Ray’s penis.