Dean Winters, Thomas Haden Church (Photo: HBO)

After last week’s Christmas episode, Robert and Frances’ momentary truce on Divorce ends when Frances finds out the truth about his failing business. It’s an interesting deceptive parallel to Frances’ affair: How much do we keep from the people we’re closest to? And at what cost?

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For the first time, Robert realizes the absolute truth of Frances’ deception when he has sex with Janice. Having sex with someone else makes him realize just what Frances went through those 34 (32) times to deceive him: the showers, the fake smiles, the lies. Robert, on his end, has refinanced their home and put the entire family’s finances in danger, without telling anyone. We can put these two acts against each other, as Robert and Frances do at the end of the episode, when they admit that during the whole of their marriage, they were never suspicious of each other. They never would have guessed what the other one was capable of.

As far as egregious acts go, yes, an affair is certainly damaging to a marriage, but Robert’s horrible financial plan (How could a former Wall Street guy be that bad with real estate markets? And interest rates?) could take the family years to get over. The FunSpace plan nicely plays into this side of Robert: Always optimistically and unrealistically looking into the future. All he needs is for one of these deals to go through, and he’s set. But the reality is that until that happens, he has nothing. Frances, who has been toeing the line for eight years, gets that, but Robert still fights the painful reality that they’re in, varying from hopeful new deals to telling Tony he feels like a failure.

For Frances, as the heated yet still funny restaurant conversation reveals, supporting Robert’s failed business means that she had to put her own dream of running a gallery on hold. These kind of sacrifices are common in a marriage, but it’s a long-term investment in the relationship. Now that the marriage has failed, unfortunately that sacrifice is now seen as a loss.

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Fortunately, that failure will be played out with the unlikely humor of a legal battle, with Frances’ increasingly faltering Max (Jeffrey DeMunn) against Robert’s Tony Silvercreek (Dean Winters), which I’m loving. Max’s mini-stroke seems engineered to give Frances a disadvantage, but it’s entertaining, albeit a little mean. (The portrait of a younger more on-the-ball Max in the conference room is a poignant touch.) Like Thomas Haden Church, Dean Winters goes all in, so that his character becomes just an unstoppable force of asshole misogyny. I love his approval of Robert’s mustache: “That bitch magnet’s the only thing you’ve got going for you.”

But despite all of Robert’s painful previous efforts with his old friend Kathy and the nice Starbucks barista, Robert finally getting laid, as Tony suggests, almost does him more harm than good. Like Tony, Robert has a lot of anger, which he unleashes on Dallas, out shopping. The difference is that Robert realizes almost immediately how cruel he’s being, taunting her that she’s pushing her son away even as she tries to pull him closer (which, let’s face it, she probably is). Robert explains, and Dallas agrees, that he’s fucking lonely. A morning tryst with Janice, who almost immediately switches to uber-mom mode, running off to the dentist an offering instructions for heating up pizza, doesn’t do much to alleviate this. In fact, it leaves Robert almost paralyzed in the bathroom.

Frances’ anger takes a more direct turn, with a rock through the window of one of Robert’s unfinished houses, a symbol of the failed business that has ruined them financially. For all their lashing out, neither of them really get what they want. The giant deception on both sides leaves them, again, on the opposite side of that front door. Robert comes to Frances because she’s the only one he can talk to, and the only one who will really understand what he’s going through right now. But so much damage has been done, she realizes that she no longer has to be that person for him. It’s both the upside and downside of divorce: You get to rid yourself of this person, but after that relationship is gone, for good or ill, you are likely on your own. You can still blame your problems on the other person for awhile, but after that, it’s all on you.

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Stray observations

  • “Go cook some milk.”
  • Remember when Dean Winters played Carrie’s fuck buddy on Sex And The City?
  • I still don’t believe that a New York suburbanite mom would be running around in heels so much, especially outside in the snow. Maybe boots.
  • The sex scene was backgrounded by “Do That To Me One More Time” by The Captain And Tennille, the 1970s pop couple so famous, they got their own TV show. Recently divorced.
  • “Go All The Way” by The Raspberries closes the episode, which Haden Church talks about here. Since all of the actors and creators grew up on this ’70s rock radio, the songs harken back to a simpler era. Like Frances waxed nostalgically last week, it was a time when all these difficult and complicated adult problems were far ahead in the future.

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