Sunday, December 11, 2016

REVIEW: 'Divorce' - Robert and Frances Throw the Kids in the Middle of Their Divorce in 'Détente'

HBO's Divorce - Episode 1.10 "Détente"

Tensions ease between Frances and Robert, but a move by Frances' new lawyer sends Robert on a vengeful path.

Frances and Robert's children, Tom and Lila, really haven't been important characters throughout this first season. They are necessary because it shows that this is a nuclear family unit being torn apart because of divorce. But Tom and Lila largely exist as objects instead of actual characters. They go to school and that's about it. They are background extras at the house. They knew about the divorce before Frances and Robert told them. That moment was about the parents though. Frances and Robert were freaking out over how to tell their kids when Tom and Lila couldn't care less. They are largely just two things Frances and Robert need to be concerned about. And yet, the show hasn't done anything to make the audience actually care about them. They are important because they are the kids of the two lead characters. But there's really no reason for them to exist other than it makes for a nice image that this was a "normal" family unit.

It's surprising that the show decides the season finale is the time to make Tom and Lila more important than two people who need to be driven everywhere. Their inclusion marks a significant turning point in Frances and Robert's divorce. The divorce has never been about the kids. Robert and Frances always agreed on them. There has never been a cause for concern or tension before. Of course, Frances and Robert are narcissistic people. So, it should come as no surprise that they are more concerned about their own dreams than worrying about their children. Neither of them is like Diane, who is horrified at the sheer thought of being a mother. Robert and Frances do love their kids. They've just spent most of their time either working or chasing their dreams. The divorce has happened away from the kids. They haven't been dragged into the mess yet. This finale sets out to change that. It doesn't try to wrap this story up so the second season can explore different issues that stem from divorce. Instead, it doubles down on the nastiness by throwing the kids into it. They are hurt for the first time which hopefully gives Robert and Frances permission to be nastier towards each other.

Frances and Robert have always tried to put on happy faces in front of the kids. It has never worked. Tom and Lila have always seen through the illusion. Frances and Robert think that just by walking a few feet away then the kids won't be able to hear them fighting. The kids have seen how awful and self-obsessed their parents can be. They know how much they bicker and fight. And now, that is affecting the children. Lila is hit by a car because the pickup schedule was too confusing. It's unclear who is really to blame for this incident. The kids blame Frances while she blames Tom. It's largely just a way to show that the way things have been done aren't working that well for this family. Things need to change. Of course, that change means that the kids are used as weapons in this war. This has never been a custody battle before. But it's about to become one. It didn't need to become that either. But Robert has gotten so self-destructive and reckless that he's willing to do just about anything in order to win. He willfully ignores the advice of his lawyer and just does whatever he feels in the moment. It's dangerous but also exciting and thrilling from a narrative perspective. It's great when Frances and Robert are nasty towards each other.

And yet, the finale gets lost in the emotional attachment to the characters. It wants the audience to care and sympathize for both Frances and Robert. It wants Frances confessing the truth to her father about her affair to feel like a weight has been lifted from her. But instead, it's just this odd moment that really hasn't been set up at all. Her father was important in one episode and has wanted Robert to do the right thing by his family. It's him falling into the traditional worldview of divorce. Frances was torn about it then. She finally confesses now. But was this really suppose to be something the audience was invested in? It was just one dangling thread that didn't really have to mean anything more than it was in that previous episode. Similarly, the show thinks it's devastating when Robert calls Frances and she asks to have the weekend with the kids to go on a ski trip. He gives it to her and then trashes his renovation. He is suppose to feel defeated because he is losing absolutely everything he cares about in this divorce. He then takes those emotions and channels it towards Frances seeming like an irresponsible and dangerous parent. That's a shift that he makes in this divorce. But it's him once again doubling down on his reckless behavior and not really thinking about the impact of his actions on those closest to him.

But nothing is more confusing in this finale than that kiss between Robert and Frances during the opening of her gallery. This has been a significant story this season. Frances has finally chased her dream. She is no longer being held back by Robert. She's able to do what she wants for once. She has succeeded at it as well. The opening is a success. It allows her to be a confident character and not a reserved, reactionary one she's been for most of the season. And yet, it's timed with the collapse of Robert's plans for Fun Space. He has obviously put a lot of work into this project. Not even Nick can find a reason to call this a bad investment. But Robert is unable to afford the space because Frances' new lawyer, Elaine, has frozen his assets. She has done so in order to keep him from wasting any more money. He has made too many bad investments for anyone to believe this will be a success. It's a crushing defeat for him because he truly cared about this project. He heads over to the gallery full of anger. But then, he sees Julian and a reserved Frances and all of those emotions just fade away. He is suddenly a calm and rational adult who tells Frances all of the things she wanted to hear during their marriage. He apologizes and thanks her for everything she has done for the family. And then, they kiss. It shows that the spark is no longer alive despite how much growth they've seemingly done apart. This realization doesn't suddenly make their marriage work. All of that is good in theory. But it doesn't totally track well with what the story has been up to this point. Robert wasn't on the trajectory to see the error of his ways. In fact, he's prone to become even more reckless and self-destructive. That's good for the show because it highlights the things it does best. But again, the need to feel sentimental towards these characters drags the whole show down. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Détente" was written by Hayes Davenport, Sharon Horgan, Adam Resnick, Tom Scharpling & Paul Simms and directed by Jesse Peretz.
  • Diane helping a lost kid find his mom at the grocery store is something that really could have gone either way in swaying her opinion of kids. It could have made her want to safe this kid from this self-obsessed mother. But instead, it made her realize that kids are terrible and make their parents horrible people. Of course, she says that not knowing that she's already pretty awful and narcissistic.
  • Julian's story doesn't particularly track well either. In recent episodes, he has seemed to move on from Frances and not really remember their affair at all. And now, it's revealed he's obsessed with her and googles her every night. That's just so he's there during this big moment for her.
  • Of course, it is pretty funny to watch Julian run away from the gallery after he spots Robert across the street. That exchange with the gun really startled him and made Robert look very unpredictable.
  • It's also amusing that Nick is trying to find a way out of this investment with Robert no matter what it takes. Everyone else there is all in on Fun Space. Nick is as well because the numbers make sense. But he is forceful in any conversation because he's desperately looking for that way out.
  • Frances has the right idea in trying to do something great for the kids after everything they've been through. But isn't it too soon for a ski trip considering Lila is still hurt? That makes it more about Frances feeling good about herself than being a good and considerate parent.