Dick Loudon, growing increasingly depressed about his middling career as a writer of do-it-yourself books, purchases a Connecticut guesthouse and moves there with his emotionally distant former mistress Joanna. But the chill New England air only serves to heighten the tension between them, and soon Dick begins an affair with Stephanie, the chambermaid. He makes love to her against a tree; his loins, too, seem armored with bark.
Joanna learns of the affair, and sets out to seduce Stephanie’s fiancé, Michael. On a ski trip to Vermont, drunk on brandy, the two adulterous couples make love in adjoining rooms, but in the void of uneasy silence born from their guilt, they feel no pleasure.
The series ends as Dick dreams that he stayed married to his ex-wife. But there is no pleasure to be found in her aggressive domestic possession of him. Upon waking up, Dick goes for a walk and looks down upon the lush autumn trees, recalling a long-ago summer when he drove his father’s car from rural Pennsylvania to Boston. A crow struck the windshield. The memory of the bird’s mindless thrashing reminds Dick of the futility of his own reflexive lust, and for the first time in his life he looks forward to the orgasmic release of death.
Ross Geller, recently divorced, yearns for his sister’s best friend, self-important professional dilettante Rachel. She senses this, and takes sadistic pleasure in taunting him with her blatant flirtations. Alone with Ross in the kitchen, she asks him to examine a mole on her breast, despite his protests that his doctorate is actually in paleontology. When his hand wanders, she slaps him across the face, the loathsome weight of a thousand lubricious advances carried in the lily-pink palm of her hand.
Ross approaches Joey, his womanizing best friend, for advice. Drunk on sherry, and feeling particularly misogynistic after losing a recent acting job, Joey suggests that Ross improve his skills in cunnilingus: “Train your tongue to find that fleshy lodestone, those sweet lips peeled back like the tender skin of a blooming orchid.”
On a ski trip to Vermont, Ross finds himself alone with Rachel, but his pathetic begging—his prostrate worship of her goddess’s body—disgusts her. She sends him away, and, despairing, Ross drives for hours into the darkness. He eventually stops in rural Pennsylvania, where he hires a prostitute. The hooker’s indifferent tenderness reminds him of his mother.
After the S.S. Minnow is caught in a freak hurricane, a group of New England socialites find themselves stranded on a desert island. Mr. and Mrs. Howell, hosts of the orgiastic party for which the Minnow was leased, try to exercise their authority over the others, but find that their wealth means nothing in this new world. To validate her flagging sense of worth, Mrs. Howell begins an affair with the lecherous Skipper, whom she secretly loathes. Her skin, at his touch, shudders like a jungle leaf bearing the staccato bombardment of tropical rain.
Elsewhere on the island, first mate Gilligan—a lapsed Catholic whose childhood in rural Pennsylvania was fraught with awkward erotic fumblings—stumbles across Ginger bathing nude in the lagoon. As he watches, his macadamia becomes a plantain, then a rippling mango, bursting with weight.
Later, on a ski trip to Vermont, the men, drunk on coconut wine, goad the women into performing a group sex act. In the morning—the scene of their transgression lit by sunlight and sobriety—the entire group is overcome by a sweeping regret that numbs their sense of hope.
They are never rescued.