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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Divorce makes a bad case for marriage counseling

Photo: HBO
Photo: HBO
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Divorce was going to have to come up with something to switch Frances from the hopeful, clinging-to-marriage person she has been so far in the series, to the wife-bent-on-divorce that the show requires. But after this episode I’m still not sure Robert’s 15-year-old emotional affair qualifies, even if it did only get interrupted by 9/11.

Either way, Frances’ “32 times” revelation apparently equals Robert’s almost-affair, and the situation disintegrates rapidly. Although I’m with Robert on this: Frances still seems like the villain in this situation. But if Robert was so emotionally disengaged, that could help explain why she needed to get affection elsewhere. After a certain age, hopefully people don’t have enemies anymore, and most people are pretty conflict-avoidant. That all changes when you enter into a legal breakup with someone. Frances and Robert quickly slide into enemy territory, and what makes it even more cutting, because they know each other so well, they know exactly how to hurt each other. It’s why divorces are about as ugly and contentious as courtrooms get. That hurt steeps the anger into unbelievable levels.

Because this is the premise of our series, this is where the ostensible fun stuff begins: dirty dishes under bedspreads, the cranking of Yes music. The sadness of Lila washing the dog in the hopes that it will get her parents back in the same bedroom, only to have angry Robert stick Frances with the wet, dirty dog. But while Divorce tries to put a dark, biting spin on it, the truth of the matter is that the unraveling of two lives can be almost unbearably sad. That’s why the most resonant scene of the episode is the final conversation between Frances and Robert as he leaves the house. The rest of the episode focuses on them moving apart from each other, and each trying to establish lives without the other. After so many years, what can that actually entail? For Frances, it’s her gallery, but for Robert, it’s extremely awkward off-game flirting and some endearing bonding with his crew. It’s telling that the final straw for Frances, after everything else they’re going through, is Robert wanting to put a hold on her gallery. With that, the two make the fateful step to walk out on counseling.

[Small departure here: Marriage counseling is a tricky step anyway, isn’t it? The woman with the black eye in the waiting room, who is then laughing with her spouse the following week, is as dark as Divorce has gotten so far. Once you’re in counseling, you’re admitting that your relationship is in serious trouble, and trying to find out if there is a possible path back from that. I know people who have absolutely had good results with it, but I also remember the line from Melissa Bank’s Girls’ Guide To Hunting And Fishing, which likens your therapist telling you that you’re all done with therapy to your dry cleaner telling you to try hand-washing. I still resent a couples therapist I saw—with a boyfriend, mind you; when you’re already in therapy and not even married, you know you’re likely doomed—who saw us for months when it was crystal clear he and I were not meant to be together. I still wonder about that: How long would she have kept seeing us, and cashing our checks? Forever? So the ineffectual marriage counselor that Frances and Robert see, who doesn’t do much more than take notes and offer a conciliatory “wow” to Robert’s 9/11 revelation, hit home for me. Which is probably a disservice to relationship counselors who are actually helping people. Okay, end rant.]

This leads us to the scene with Frances on the stairs and Robert leaving. The two admit that they’ve always loved each other, which is the damnable part of it all: Sometimes love just isn’t enough. Which is not the bill of goods you are sold at the wedding planning, which is all romance and roses and true love always: Life gets in the way. For Frances and Robert, and many others, it’s kids and suburbia and job dissatisfaction and a variety of other things that cause someone, like Frances’ client at the start of the episode, to unsurprisingly want to start over. Frances may have gotten there in a roundabout way (unlike Robert, who’s still steamed about the French guy), but she gets there eventually. But Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church, as they’ve been selling every scene, really give a lot to that farewell, especially when Robert admits he just wants to say her name one more time. Not even a final bathroom mishap can lighten that absolute tragedy.

Stray observations

  • We finally get that back story we’ve been missing so far this season: That Frances is a headhunter (sorry, “executive recruiter”) who took a profitable job she doesn’t like to help out Robert’s contracting business. Which he seems to be trying to help by cursing his way through open houses.
  • On the other side of relationships that may or may not make it: Diane and Nick, who have come through Diane’s attempted shooting and Nick’s induced coma more besotted than ever.
  • I like the prevalence of flipping the bird this episode as a passive, silent way to express frustration and aggression. I thought I was the only one who flipped the bird at my phone sometimes on the train, which gets me some strange looks from fellow passengers.
  • Hilarious that Robert’s whining is what wakes Nick up from his coma.
  • Also hilarious: Robert’s continued insistence that Julian is French.
  • I get that SJP is a fashionista from way back, but there is no working mom I know who would wear heels inside the house to pick up the dirty dishes. Inside the house, off the shoes go.
  • As I’ve said, Divorce’s retro soundtrack is one of my favorite parts about it. Tonight, Yes’ “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” is not only perfect as Robert’s theme song right now, it’s also appropriately obnoxious enough to make someone turn off a breaker. And the episode closer by Poco, “Crazy Love,” is like The Blue Jean Committee before there was a Blue Jean Committee.