Sunday, November 27, 2016

REVIEW: 'Divorce' - Robert's New Attitude is Cause for Concern with Frances in 'Church'

HBO's Divorce - Episode 1.08 "Church"

Frances pursues a new job, and is troubled that Robert suddenly seems so happy, despite the divorce.

Frances and Robert are still just trying to figure out what their lives are post-divorce. This is an exciting time for both of them because they only have to worry about what will make them happy. They don't have to compromise their feelings just to appease someone else. It's a liberating experience. But it's a struggle for both of them because they have been together for so long as a couple. They now have to figure out how to co-parent while also facing off against each other in court. Their actual divorce hasn't gotten a whole lot of screen time so far. It's still just in the early stages but the lawyers are preparing to do their worst to each other. Until that is all settled, Frances and Robert need to figure out what to do with their lives. Both of them find inspiration early in this episode. It appears that both of them are making steps towards improving their lives and bringing better clarity to their worlds. But then, it's not surprising at all when none of that turns out to be true and they are still stuck in the same, predictable patterns of angst they have always been in.

At first, it appears as if Robert has taken quite a big turn. His emotions vary erratically from episode to episode. He jumps from emotion to emotion. There is simply no telling what kind of mood he will be in at the start of each episode. He is unpredictable in that way. It's because of that personality detail that he has been such a failure in everything that he does. He failed as a businessman, father and husband because he is just so inconsistent and selfish. He cares about his feelings and his ambitions. He has an ideal of what his life should be and cannot fathom anything that might challenge it. This divorce has been rough for him because it's exposed just how toxic he has been for this family unit. But in "Church," it appears he has found enlightenment by going to church. It's a strange thought to Frances. Robert has never been a spiritual man before. But now, he is upbeat and happy about everything in his life. The only thing that has changed is his newfound appreciation for religion.

Of course, it's not surprising whatsoever that Robert really hasn't had any kind of spiritual awakening or enlightenment over his life. He's forcing himself to be happy all the time in order to better cope with his life. It's a way for him to handle this ever changing world. Being angry and lashing out at other people hasn't gotten him very far. And yet, being happy all of the time is weird and off-putting in its own way. He takes on the mantel of the "fun parent." He's the one who takes the kids out on adventures and gets them a pet snake without talking to Frances first. She has to be the realistic parent putting a wet blanket on everyone else's dreams. Robert does all of this because he wants to be liked and appreciated. That doesn't come from a new reverence for a higher being. He speaks highly of the impact church has had on him. But he doesn't fully belong there either. He's more than comfortable talking about his divorce and Frances cheating on him with Julian in front of a group of people. He's still holding onto those feelings. It's a big deal that Robert later visits Julian at his university. But saying he forgives Julian for sleeping with Frances contrasts with the action of handing over a gun and putting it in Julian's crotch. It's clear these words mean nothing. Robert still hates Julian for what happened with Frances. This is an empty gesture he's trying to contort into meaning something.

Plus, the show could be making Robert even more toxic of a character as well. Church isn't the thing that provides him this new mentality. Instead, it's revealed that he's been injecting himself with testosterone. That's in keeping with the character. He sees the end of his marriage and the poor financial state of his business as his failings as a man. It adds a whole new dimension to the themes of toxic masculinity that have always been present with the character. Robert sees himself as a man's man. A man who has to meet certain societal norms in order to be happy. He sees his failures as not being enough of a man. He wasn't a man who could hang onto his family or make his dream business a success. So, he foolishly believes he should take make of the chemical that makes someone a man. Of course, that will probably only lead to him becoming even more erratic emotionally. He may be feeling happy now. But all it takes is for yet another thing to go wrong for him for his entire personality to shift once more.

Of course, Frances doesn't see any of this. She just thinks it's all a trick in order to beat her in their divorce. It's an act Robert is putting on to improve his case. It's not something that can be sustained over a long period of time. And yet, this divorce is proving to cost Frances just as much as her marriage did. She was unable to chase her dreams when she was married to Robert. And now, she's opening her own gallery. But she's still stuck behind the weight and potential consequences from this divorce. She can't move forward with her plans for a better future because of Robert. She wants to turn his office into a reading room for herself. She wants that space. But then, the snake invades. She sees a ploy to get the kids to love Robert more. She doesn't want a snake. She has realistic concerns about it being in the house. And yet, she lets the kids keep it because she doesn't want to be the parent to crush their dreams. She is still compromising for Robert even though they are no longer married. She's not happy and it's all because Robert suddenly has this new energy and happiness for his life.

However, Frances is capable of self-sabotaging her own dreams as well. Robert wasn't the only thing keeping her back from pursuing the things she really wants from her life. She is happy to be finally offered an executive position at an art gallery. It's a job in a profession she's actually passionated about. She's happy and excited about it. But she becomes unhinged after learning that Robert could be entitled to this significant pay raise as well. Because their divorce isn't finalized yet, he could make a claim for this new money she's about to receive. That's a reality that Dallas points out to her. It pops Frances' bubble and sends her spinning. She loses this job because of Robert. But she loses so much more because of her own actions. She wants to work through a deferment period so that she's not being paid while the divorce case is still open. It's this wild plan that she presents to her potential new bosses. But then, she just keeps pressing the issue. She doesn't have a strong case for this plan. But her chances of having this job go away after she keeps talking about it. This divorce may be complicated for her but she still needs to find her own confidence in order to be truly happy with what her life now is.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Church" was written by Hayes Davenport and directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller.
  • Diane is completely thrown when Nick brings up the idea of adopting a child. He sees how well she has taken care of him since returning home and thinks she'd be a good mother. That doesn't seem true at all. Plus, she is not receptive to the idea and promptly freaks out.
  • Dallas really has no idea what to do with her son and his girlfriend. She puts on a smile whenever she's around but hates the fact that she's a slut and just openly showing that off in front of her.
  • However, Dallas and Diane are really starting to become tangential as characters. They just pop up whenever Frances or Robert need someone to talk to. Whenever they appear on their own without Frances or Robert, it just feels strange and alienating.
  • Julian has become a one-note character as well. He just exists to be this womanizer who is obsessed with the female form. He's sleeping with many women. It's even evident in his lecture although he is later distracted by Robert's outburst.
  • It really became clear that something was going on with Robert once he immediately started celebrating how well his daughter is doing at archery even though she didn't hit a bullseye.
  • Plus, where do the kids stay when they are with Robert? He's living in one of his renovations. It's an open construction site. Or does Robert just get the kids for the day but always has to bring them back home to Frances?