Sunday, November 6, 2016

REVIEW: 'Divorce' - Frances and Robert Hire Lawyers as They Prepare for Battle in 'Gustav'

HBO's Divorce - Episode 1.05 "Gustav"

Frances discovers that Robert has hired a lawyer, and responds in kind. Frances looks to connect with an influential artist. Robert pitches Nick a can't-miss investment opportunity.

Across five episodes now, it is clear that Robert isn't responsible with anything. He's a mess and just flailing around in complete denial to his situation. He was right to lash out at Frances after learning about her affair. He was sensible when it came to getting a divorce and wanting to do things through mediation. But now, he's becoming more monstrous than ever before. That's entirely because he doesn't know where his own limits are. He pushes people away but he doesn't wallow in his own isolation. He doesn't wonder why his life is this way. He just continues to push forward hoping that the next project will be the thing to break him out of his failures. It's an issue that has been present for so much of his marriage to Frances. This first season has done a fascinating job peeling back the layers of these two characters. It's clear these issues have been there for a long time. And now, the divorce is only amplifying them further. He's no longer seeing things rationally. He just doesn't want to admit that he has failed with his dream. Understandably, that's a difficult thing to do. But it's starting to take such a nasty turn that will have huge consequences on the people around him.

All of Nick's problems started to emerge in the narrative once he learned that he was in debt. At the beginning of the season, it seemed like he and Frances were well off. It was hard to become invested in them as a couple and as a story because it felt like their issues were stereotypical "rich, white people problems." And now, the show is pulling back the curtain a little bit to show how stubborn and determined Nick really is. He has these moments of genuine emotion and connection. It was moving when he and Frances decided to get a divorce as amicably as possible. But then, he wasn't willing to put in the work at mediation. The pressure was on him and that's simply not something he handles well. This episode reveals that he used to be a success on Wall Street. He left so he could pursue his dream of renovating houses. Of course, that hasn't turned out to be a successful business for him. He can't actually provide for his family. Frances had to do that. Robert just lived in denial to the true state of his world. He put the richest and best quality features in his houses not aware of the effect the expensive renovations will have on his end profits. He's not a savvy businessman.

It's because of all of this that it's funny when he starts this new war with Frances simply by hiring an incompetent attorney. He is determined to make the Fun Space a reality. The only way he believes that can happen is if he gets half of Frances' money. That idea was put in his head. He's putting his needs ahead of everything else in his life. A nasty divorce could really hurt the children. Involving lawyers could be the thing that damages this family unit for good. Robert doesn't see it that way. He could have gotten his share of the finances through mediation. He just didn't stick around or look at the papers to find out. He didn't want to put in the work. So now, he's hired someone to do it all for him. He wants nothing to stand in the way of his dream. He sees Frances as someone who has always kept him back. That's not true at all. She put her dreams on hold just so he could chase his. She's accepting a better life for herself now. And yet, she's also being punished for it. It's an interesting conversation about the different ways people view the same actions by both men and women. Robert is allowed to flail around and lash out at the world while Frances is criticized the moment she has a night out with her friends.

It's because of Robert's casual recklessness that forces this heated battle between him and Frances. They are still just preparing for it. Robert hires the first lawyer that he hears about. This guy is recommended to him and Robert goes in determined to make Frances pay for what she has done. He doesn't care that this guy isn't a divorce lawyer. He just thinks it's the same law and that any kind of lawyer can help him. Frances is able to afford a real divorce lawyer. But he could be just as problematic. She is worried about money just as much as Robert is. She has more security than he does. She has comfort that she can open her art gallery without ruining her savings. But her lawyer tries to say she'll be paying for an elite service that actually cares about her problems. She has a lot of them as she makes clear right away. It's fun watching Frances be truly nasty in her introspection about her life with Robert. She took pleasure out of making him feel inadequate when he didn't give her an orgasm every time they had sex. That's a fun tangent. But more importantly, it's clear this divorce is going to cost both of them big time. Things are starting to get out of hand. All of this started because Frances had an affair. But now, it is becoming so much more than that. Plus, things are really just getting started as well.

Eventually, Robert does learn that he hasn't hired the best lawyer for his divorce. He fires both him and his accountant because they aren't telling him the precise things he wants to be hearing. That's a dangerous characteristic for any kind of businessman. One has to be wise enough to realize that you don't know everything. Robert lacks that. And yet, things seem to be working out for him as well. He is able to find an actual lawyer who is just as famous as Frances' is. Robert's new lawyer is a total douchebag who only defends men in divorce proceedings. He sees woman as the enemy and to be blamed in any kind of situation. That's a fascinating new character to introduce at this stage of the season. Robert likes him more than his previous attorney and friends. He may actually get what he wants thanks to this guy. But at what cost? Is opening the Fun Space really that important to him? How far is he willing to go in this battle? It doesn't take long for Robert's lawyer to make his presence known to Frances. She learns right away that he thinks very little of her. He is condescending towards her simply because she spent a night out with her friends at a party where alcohol was served. He wants to paint her as the irresponsible parent. That opens an interesting conversation about gender. One I'm not entirely sure the show can follow through on. What is clear though is that the show is becoming more nasty with its main characters. That's the quality that needed to be raised for the show to be the best version of itself. This is a good first step. Now, it should be interested to see where it goes next.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Gustav" was written by Cindy Chupack and directed by Adam Bernstein.
  • Nick was Robert's only friend. But now, the two have just drifted apart so much. Nick's heart attack and Robert's divorce have changed them. Nick is happy and sees the world better than he did before. But Robert is still in denial and hopes he can still count on Nick being the one friend to be cynical with.
  • Of course, Nick isn't completely without delusions either. He still believes that Robert and Frances could work their problems out and still be a happy couple. It worked for him and Diane. His happiness blinds him to how desperately both Robert and Frances need to get away from each other.
  • Robert can't even put together a compelling presentation. He has already presented Fun Space to Nick as an investor and was rejected. And now, a powerpoint, accompanying music and a speech only confuse the message even more.
  • Dallas really hasn't been that important of a character so far. However, it is amusing to learn that she is a therapist and needs to be talking with someone on the phone in order to release her emotions.
  • The optimism Frances felt when she first saw the space for her art gallery is gone. Now, she believes her real estate agent tricked her. But it's more likely just a case of her realizing all the hard work she'll have to put into making this place work.
  • Frances, Diane and Dallas going out to another art gallery feels under-baked as a story. Frances tries pitching her space to an artist. But apparently, he won't do it because she's not as rich as he believed. That's elitist and weird. It's also just something tacked on to make the story feel important in the end.