Photo: Craig Blankenhorn (HBO)
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With only three episodes left in the series, “Bad Manners” is a bit of a placeholder for Divorce. Frances tries and fails to make amends with Jackie, Diane moves closer to the rich octogenarian, and Dallas is in trouble at work. While the dinner party scene is a thing of chemistry-laden beauty, as is the case whenever Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church share the small screen, it sets a high bar that the rest of the episode fails to match.

The beauty of it is that it starts out so innocently, even though Robert’s initial (and proper) reaction is horror: “Why the hell would you want to do that?” Four grown-up, reasonably well-adjusted adults having dinner, including two exes that are trying to keep things friendly as they move on into new relationships. What could go wrong, except for everything?

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This final season of Divorce appears to be zeroing in on Robert’s feelings for Frances. Obviously, there are unresolved issues: Why else would he defend her ahead of his wife last week in front of his hilarious but vile sister, and why would he care that Jeremy asked his ex-wife out? Why would neither Robert nor Frances be ready to sell the house? The character of Robert is so seemingly obtuse that even he doesn’t seem to realize what his new pregnant bride senses all too well. Frances seems pretty oblivious also, mainly focused on trying to make it work with someone that doesn’t seem committed to making it work.

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We already know that Henry (James Lesure) isn’t even divorced yet from Abby Bernstein, and now he’s telling Frances that he doesn’t really care if she goes out with other guys. Judging from what we know of Henry, this totally adds up: This is someone who has said quite plainly that he never wants to get married again. Frances isn’t paying attention to that, even though she was just as clear a few episodes ago that she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life alone. Robert’s starting over; surely she can eventually as well? Not with this guy, apparently.

This season Diane and Dallas have been shuffled off to the side to make room for the main story: There’s really no way that Diane’s shopgirl and Dallas’ ennui career problems could be integrated into Francis’ and Robert’s plots, unlike when Diane and Nick were still a couple and Dallas was Jacki’s therapist. Despite the charm of both Molly Shannon and Talia Balsam, these plots are a bit awkward and don’t really fit, only seeming to move these two characters ahead to wherever they’ll be at the series finish line. And some women don’t even go into menopause until their sixties, so Diane’s tampon box really shouldn’t be an issue.

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Dallas does get an appropriately poignant line though: “It all comes so much sooner than we thought.” Not just menopause, but kids, marriage, middle age, and maybe even divorce. Robert and Frances were in such a rush to get away from each other, even that break wasn’t enough to totally sever the two.

A lot of it can just get chalked up to time, and history. Frances would have been able to predict Robert’s horror over co-sleeping with the baby, but Jackie just doesn’t know him as well. Robert knows how attached Frances is to the house, which is why he’s so horrified when Jackie brings up selling it. Getting all four of these players together at the same table makes it pretty obvious who’s connecting with whom, and who isn’t, just like during last week’s family fight.

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It’s an interesting, almost sentimental path for Divorce to take, as Frances’ bird career suggests that another way is possible. There’s a triumph in a bird taking flight, and Frances’ new career involves watching them. Turns out a “sparkbird” is really a thing, and by the end of the episode, Frances has come close to finding one. The episode ends with a version of the Beach Boys’ “Little Bird.” While the title certainly fits in here thematically, so do the lyrics: “The trout in the shiny brook / Gave the worm another look / And told me not to worry / About my life.” Everything may be fairly up in the air for Frances, and she’s probably not dating the guy she’s going to wind up with. But if she looks around at her friends, her family, even a job she can stand—after all those tumultuous divorce-fueled months, things are pretty good right now, as Divorce begins to draws to a close.

Stray observations

  • Best line, again by Robert: “Of all the horrible things that were said tonight, my racist remark didn’t even make the top three.”
  • Runner-up line, also by Robert (mainly in the delivery): “Have fun with things and Tom with college, discuss, and dinner, assorted people.”
  • I had to look this up: Apparently, a Friendly’s Fribble is a milkshake.
  • Becki Newton’s good and bad napkin-folding skills are extraordinary.
  • I do not get those giant “EAT” signs in kitchens.
  • I like how Frances fell down after flipping off that man and his child. Seems appropriate, karma-wise.
  • Next week: The basketball team hits the road.

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