Trigonometry: this Bisexual Fantasy Throuple Doesn’t Quite Add Up

This review contains spoilers.

Trigonometry, a BBC import now out on HBO Max. This soapy mini-series is about two working class renters, Gemma and Kieran who take on a lodger to make ends meet. They’re in love and have been for years, but they’ve been arguing over the constant stressors of billsand exhausting shifts. When Ray, the cute former-Olympian with a sweet french accent and frizzy hair, shows up, she’s the solution to more than their money problems. She’s emotionally present and caring. And hot. They’ve found their unicorn, and they didn’t even have to be that couple in the lesbian section of Tinder.

Trigonometry is the fulfillment of many bisexual fantasies. Gemma talks about how she mostly dated women before Kieran, that he was a sort of mythic man himself in fitting into her life, which was otherwise woman-oriented. Ray reawakens this part of Gemma’s sexuality and self identification. However much she loves Kieran, she misses women, misses expressing herself sexually with other women.

Gemma also hates the institution of marriage and doesn’t want to get involved in the optics, the performance of a “normal” coupledom, even though she is committed to Kieran and they both describe each other as ‘their person.’ She’s a feminist and she doesn’t need a man to define her. She’s anti-marriage and it’s heteropatriarchal implications even before she falls for Ray.

Kieran falling for Ray is just as complex, since he doesn’t have those same views about marriage. He’s taken by surprise by his feelings for her. They seem to come from similar life experiences, traumas they have in common, oh and their mutual adoration for Gemma. Kieran’s night shift work doesn’t give him and Gemma much time together. Ray’s presence (and additional income) takes a huge burden offKieran to live in the two hour blocks when he and Gemma are both awake.

The show will resonate for anyone who’s ever lamented the reality that no one person can ever fill all of your needs. Monagamists would argue that their intimate needs are met in one relationship. Friends and family fill the cup the rest of the way with friendship, care and understanding.

For bi women who are monogamous, they’d argue that however much passing crushes over the long arc of a relationship may inspire longing for a man (or a woman, if they’re het-partnered), it’s not outweighed by the satisfaction of being with their partner.

But the reality is that a lot of people, regardless of sexual orientation, don’t want to or can’t make monogamy work, or at least only in chapters, rather than over the volume of their entire lives.

But apart from the fantasy-fulfillment, the show tangos with some harmful bisexual stereotypes, without addressing them head-on.

There is a persistent fear expressed by lesbians that dating bisexuals comes with the danger that they’ll never be truly satisfied with their partner, that some part of them will miss being with a man. For women, this comes with the burden of societal messages that lesbians are like Man-Lite, that dick just hits different, and that deep down any bi woman will just miss it too much to stay committed. It’s a harmful trope that casts bi women as cheaters or liars. Gemma and Ray aren’t forced to confront these biases against bi women, or to deal with the whole dick-hits-different thing, which is weird, because they constitute some of the most persistent that bi women face, whether in relationships, amongst their community, or in societal messages.

Another completely alien plot hole was the absence of a discussion of racial issues. Gemma and Kieran are a black couple, Ray is white. Perhaps it’s just because I’m American, and here we have a different history of racial biases than the Brits. But from what I’ve observed and experienced, different cultures coming together in relationships (be they race, nationality, religions or just social tribes) require processing. They must be navigated. Differences explored, made space for, held. This never happened, and it didn’t resonate for me.

The issue of jealousy is raised, but it is quickly resolved every time. Insecurities seem more of the type of ‘can we really do this? Are we allowed?’ One subplot in the series is that Gemma and Kieran want kids but Gemma is likely infertile. Ray wants to carry a child for the throuple. But spoiler alert: Gemma isn’t infertile afterall.

Pregnancies are my most irksome deus ex machina, the way they create the perfect set of conflicts to push a series into another season, or in the case of Trigomometry, symbolize the future of the triad, its hope, its new life that we assume goes on when the final credits roll. The throuple will have a tightly-knit, interdependent unit, or Ray will be pushed out as somewhat incidental to the cemented, biological bond now shared by Gemma and Ray. It’s for the viewer to decide, and to be honest it’s far more interesting than the question central to this series, “what happens when a couple adds a third?”

I wish they’d dropped us as viewers deeper into the heart of the story, instead of spending so many episodes on the will they or won’t they fall in love. Not because I’m fundamentally opposed to the slow-burn pacing of many, many (many) British love stories (think BBC period pieces or The Office), but because the conflict gets more interesting once they get through all of their hangups about non-monogamy. It’s like they found the one group of 30-somethings who’ve never heard of poly…or Tinder.

It makes sense that two people would want a third person, and that being in a contained unit could offer an expansion of love, of being seen and accepted and made space to grow. That’s pretty easily digested and we don’t actually need eight episodes proving that breaking the monogamous mold would work for some people and be a really great relationship structure.

So I wish the writers had skipped the majority of that shit and given us their season two shit. I want conflict that’s unrelated to: should we become a throuple? I want conflict like: so now that we’re a throuple, how do we navigate this whole baby situation? How do we deal with the fact that two people in the throuple are married and now having a child — how does that effect Ray? How about: what if Ray wants to flirt with somebody new? How about: some drama unrelated to being a throuple? Career, lifelong goals, etc.

Another advantage to fast-forwarding the falling in 3-way love bit would have been to cut the number of het sex scenes in half. It’s the lesbian in me, but shockingly I don’t care that much about Gemma and Kieran’s sex life. Meanwhile, Gemma and Ray don’t get nearly as much (or as graphic) time between the sheets.