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Prepping for a season finale, Catastrophe confronts parenting and being parented

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Rob and Sharon’s crises aren’t aligning. That’s the heartbreaking irony of the final moments of this season’s fifth episode. Rob, finally admitting that he needs to fess up about his relapse, goes to tell Sharon in Ireland where she’s stationed after her father’s stroke. She opens the door in distress. “I need help,” he says. She responds: “How did you know?” For an instant, it’s as if she’s asking Rob how he knew it was time to acknowledge his alcoholism. But it’s not. Her dad has died. In her mind it’s a perfect moment: Her husband intuited her pain. It’s not that though. Instead, she has no clue how much he’s hurting.


There are moments of brilliance in this penultimate half an hour, but it’s also a relatively plot-heavy installment that propels the central couple toward what will unfold in the finale. Parenthood has always been a central theme of Catastrophe, but here it’s thrust into focus as Sharon deals with the impending loss and Rob must mind Frankie and Muireann on his own while going back to his hated, thankless job.

Sharon, however, isn’t dealing with her own parenting skills. Rather, she’s contending with how she was parented. She criticizes her mother for not informing her that her father had an earlier stroke, but the biggest blow is when she finds a letter to Fergal from her dad while rummaging through a drawer in her childhood home. It’s a lovely note, one written for posterity, that praises Sharon’s brother and his family. But when she can’t find one for herself, she gets pissed. Throughout the season, Sharon’s been confronting her own inadequacies as a wife in the aftermath of her almost-affair. Now she’s faced with the notion that she’s been an inadequate daughter as well. And, to make matters worse, Fergal is so clearly the family fuck-up. There’s a bit of resolution for her when her dad, faint of voice, tells her “sorry” and she kisses his hand. All these scenes capture the uncomfortable period of pre-mourning when someone, especially someone who is older, is sick. There’s an uneasiness in these moments. You fear for the person who is ill while also worrying, selfishly, about how the death relates to you.

To be completely honest, I’ve always found the show’s Braeband material some of its weakest. Given how strong Catastrophe is, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it sometimes feels like a parody of the corporate world, forgoing the series’ usual reality for caricature. Harita has hilariously deadpan moments—thanks to the excellent Seeta Indrani—but she is the most thinly drawn of the recurring characters. And indeed the action in the office here is mostly geared to driving Rob to his low point. Harita has made up an excuse for why he was out, but he soon learns that everyone is aware of her cover. That becomes evident when at a rooftop taco party when he’s chatting—and, alas, sharing a beer (or beers)—with a gossipy new employee. Devastated, he leaves and goes gets drunk on his own. It’s the first time we’ve seen Rob actually put his family in danger. He’s unable to function when he gets home, and ignorant of Muireann’s cries. He’s in such a bad state that Anna, the surly babysitter, realizes she should spend the night. She’s curt, yes, but she actually cares for the children. She curls up on the floor of Muireann’s room, and sweetly smiles at the baby.

It this betrayal of his children that finally wakes Rob up to his problem. If it weren’t for Anna, his behavior could have resulted in disaster. Up until this point I had seen Frankie’s silence as nothing more than a gag. He’s been positioned as an odd duck, and Rob and Sharon genuinely seem to like Muireann more. But then he quietly utters the single word “daddy” as Rob breaks down in his car. It’s all the more striking because of how rare it is. That Frankie was worried enough about his father to open his mouth is indicative, to Rob especially, of his actions’ impact. Rob Delaney lets his usual bluster slip away here, yielding a performance that’s subtle in its sorrow.


And that’s the last we see before Rob ends up at Sharon’s parents’ door. But now, after having decided to be vulnerable and self-aware, he must shift. He has to hide everything once again and be the supportive party rather than the one who needs support. For us to watch, it’s agonizing.

Stray Observations

  • Lauren Socha is so very good as Anna. On top of that, now I am hoping that Chris and Anna find love together. It’s just weird enough to work.
  • Speaking of Chris, his concern for Rob is touching, as bizarre as his behavior normally is.
  • The reasons that it was hard to get Sharon’s father to the hospital: Rugby match and Ed Sheeran concert. Yet another reason to be mad at Ed Sheeran.
  • “Forget the fact that you were seeing that Sinn Fein counselor quiet for a long time…”
  • “And to sink his boat. I sank his boat”
  • Sharon Horgan’s Irish accent seems to get thicker during these Ireland scenes.

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