Sunday, October 23, 2016

REVIEW: 'Divorce' - Frances and Robert Make a Major Decision About Their Marriage in 'Counseling'

HBO's Divorce - Episode 1.03 "Counseling"

Robert and Frances attend couples therapy in an effort to see if their marriage is salvageable. Frances gets advice from Dallas, while Robert vents at work. At home, tensions mount as Frances and Robert try to maintain a facade of normalcy for the children. Frances arrives at an epiphany.

Frances and Robert have agreed to go to counseling to see if their marriage is salvageable. It's the next natural step to determining whether or not they'll get a divorce. It's understandable why Divorce takes that step. This isn't a marriage ripped apart in a big or sudden way. It's been drawn out across a few episodes now. Both Frances and Robert have wanted to divorce the other. Now, they have to figure out if that is actually a mutual decision. Counseling helps illuminate that to them. Of course, it always seems like a foregone conclusion that counseling won't work. It's a good thing the story is only contained to one episode for the season. This show is about the ending of a marriage. It's not about the ambiguity and the struggle to decide if one should get a divorce. This is just one of the nasty and awkward steps one must take on the road to divorce. Frances and Robert have given it lots of thought. And now, they are able to talk things out in a setting that strengthens the conversation. It doesn't change the trajectory of the season. They are going to get a divorce. Now, it's just something they have both accepted.

It's honestly a little fun watching the escalation of tension between the two of them. They are awkward together. They are clearly not in sync at all. But in the beginning, they are able to peacefully co-exist in their house. They aren't sleeping in the same bed but there's nothing really to worry the children about their struggles. Of course, that slowly starts to change the more time they actually spend in counseling. That helps them realize that they do both hate each other. They are not afraid to hide it either. So, it's fun watching Robert dig out his record collection and just start blasting the music throughout the house. It gives the show a soundtrack that does help establish a mood and a tone for the series. It's throwback but in a way that is believable for the character. Of course, Robert would listen to this kind of music and use it to drawn out his unfortunate situation of living in his daughter's bedroom away from the rest of his family. But it's also just as satisfying to watch Frances turn the power off in that room. It gives her a victory that feels earned. Plus, it's just great seeing both of them openly flipping the other off when they walk down the hallway. It's clear counseling isn't working at all.

The purpose of counseling in this episode seems to be an exchange of details. Robert and Frances learn details about the other's lives that completely change how they think about their past actions. Robert wants to know all of the details about Frances' affair with Julian. He sees this as this big thing that ruined their lives. She had sex with Julian 32 times. That's outrageous to him. He could only forgive her for this betrayal if it only happened twice. But now, it's clear it was much more serious than that. He wants to know if she loved this guy. The audience knows that she does. She wants to re-establish trust with Robert. She keeps the truth from him in order for that to be a possibility. And yet, it doesn't work. He sees the affair for what it truly was. It wasn't a recent development. It's something that had been ongoing for awhile now. This divorce is the only reason why it is ending. Frances told Julian her true feelings which basically ended the affair. Robert doesn't know that. After learning these few details, he's had enough and just wants to lash out at the world.

And yet, the show also does something interesting in given Robert his own form of temptation. In counseling, he shares his own story about being given the opportunity to cheat but choosing not to. He sees it as having moral superiority over Frances. It's him being better than her in this regard of life. Of course, it's not that simple. He shares the details of this relationship with an old college friend. As Frances listens, she realizes that Robert essentially had an emotional affair. To her, that's just as much a betrayal as the physical affair she had. Robert doesn't see things that way. He thinks sex needs to occur for it to be an affair. He feels victimized by all of this because Frances and the counselor are ganging up on him. The counselor is never an important part of this story. She largely just listens while Robert and Frances talk. But she does provide some input here. Robert doesn't get it. But it's a victory of sorts to Frances. She's proud of the fact that Robert is not better than her after all. He hasn't been as loyal as he claims which could open the potential of them being able to work things out again.

Of course, that's not really a possibility at all. The affairs are what is used to define this need for a divorce. It's the action that puts it in Robert and Frances' minds. It's the action they are upset about and use as a weapon to hurt the other. But their relationship isn't working beyond the affairs either. Even if they didn't cheat, this wouldn't be a marriage worth saving. They are monsters to each other. Frances has used this as an opportunity to examine what she truly wants in life. She's choosing to lease the space for her art gallery. It's something she wants right now. She doesn't want to keep putting it off until later. She wants to do it now. Robert being skeptical of that idea is what ultimately motivates the two of them to get a divorce. It's Robert once again asking Frances to put her life on hold for his needs. This episode highlights how he has made a pattern out of that. Her life and career are always second fiddle to his. The audience didn't even know she was a corporate headhunter until now. It's such a brief part of this episode too. It's not her dream or her passion. She's just doing it to support her family. That's what Robert asked her to do so he could get his business up and running. And now, flipping houses has become a passion of his. It's had time onscreen to flourish. Frances wants that too. She doesn't want to be kept back. This marriage is doing that. Once she realizes that, she accepts that the marriage needs to end.

It's surprising to see how amiable Robert and Frances are to each other in the end too. They both came into counseling hoping that the marriage could be fixed. And now, they've both accepted that it can't. Robert will move out and they'll find a way to tell the kids the truth. Neither one of them wants this to become a nasty divorce that could potentially ruin the other. They don't want to involve lawyers. They don't know how to do things peacefully but they are willing to look into how that can be done. They are in agreement for the first time in a long time. Sure, it's in deciding that they hate each other and no longer want anything to do with the other anymore. But it's still the end of a life together. They did love each other once. That was such a long time ago. Neither Robert nor Frances know what comes next for them. They have their dreams and passions. But it's unclear how they'll be able to navigate them while also dealing with this divorce and still caring for their children. There's still plenty of complications ahead for them to face. But it seems like they are united for once. It probably won't last but it's at least an interesting place to end on for the episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Counseling" was written by Sharon Horgan & Paul Simms and directed by Jesse Peretz.
  • Nick wakes from his coma just to tell Robert to shut up. Nick is Robert's only friend and can't stand all of his complaining even in a coma. That will probably only isolate Robert further as he realizes he has no one to talk to about anything.
  • It's pretty funny watching Diane run to Nick's room as soon as she learns he woke up. She won't let anything stand in her way while trying to apologize to him for what she did. Plus, he immediately forgives her and takes full responsibility for the event himself. It's startling to see them reunite like this.
  • The running joke about Robert thinking Julian is French is pretty amusing. Frances even corrects him but he refuses to believe it isn't true. It's just the way he thinks about the affair that she had.
  • Robert really does seem miserable spending all of his time at the house in his daughter's room. He's not doing much to keep up the illusion of allergies because of the dog. He's just sitting in that room heating up food, leaving his dishes at the door and blasting his music. It's pretty immature actually.
  • The concluding joke about Robert not being able to leave the house right away because he needs to use the bathroom is weird. It's a moment of levity after his serious conversation with Frances. It just lingers a bit too long without a whole lot of purpose. Plus, if the walls were that thin in the house, how have the kids not heard Frances and Robert fighting?