by Rob DiCristino
A frail man lays on his deathbed. He’s at home, thankfully, not in some sterile hospital affair with the cables and tubes. Through his half-open bedroom door come the sounds of dishes clinking and people talking. Someone is playing a peaceful tune on the piano. The TV is on. A young woman sits solemnly at this man’s side, encouraging him to let go when he feels that it’s time. She waits with him in the silence. For many of us, this is the ideal scenario for our last moments: A long, well-lived life. A home filled with family members who will care for each other after we’re gone. A warm hand in our own as we shuffle off this mortal coil.
Trouble is, this isn’t his family.
And she means it. For Old Dolio (whose name comes with a story too good to spoil here), each day is just a series of scams and cons that will keep her afloat for the next twenty-four hours. The Dynes wake every day in an abandoned office building adjacent to a bubble factory. A pink, oozing soap mixture leaks periodically through the shared wall, and their willingness to scrape it off is a key condition of their rental agreement. Setting out into Los Angeles in the same clothes they wore yesterday, the three of them steal from PO boxes, return supposedly stolen items for rewards, and barter with other members of The Less Fortunate. Old Dolio has never even dreamed of an education or a career. She has no friends and no desire to make any. Life is transactional, she insists. Items have utility, or they do not. People have utility, or they do not. “What is Melanie’s utility?”, she wonders when her parents add the bubbly girl to the team. What does she bring to the table that Old Dolio doesn’t?
But then there’s Melanie, the working girl who latches onto the Dynes in hopes of living out an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist fantasy. Old Dolio is right not to trust her, at first. What would a person this bright and vivacious, a person who walks and talks like a proverbial kajillionaire, want with their discarded airline crackers and leaking hot tub? It’s true that her fascination with Dynes doesn’t make a lot of sense right away (After all, they walk around like the cast of Parasite dipped in Greasy Strangler batter), but the more we get to know Melanie, the more we see a thematic parallel to Old Dolio’s own trauma: Melanie is a nurturer, a giver. Her FaceTime sessions with mom are overwhelming marathons of affectionate one-upmanship, and her willingness to open her home and heart to these strange people reflects an aching urge to love and be loved in return. Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez steals nearly every scene she’s in, lending Melanie more than enough warmth and lyricism to breathe life into Kajillionaire’s universe of fluorescent hopelessness.