Sunday, December 4, 2016

REVIEW: 'Divorce' - Frances is Thrown By the Lawyers' Tactics in Her Divorce in 'Another Party'

HBO's Divorce - Episode 1.09 "Another Party"

Frances takes issue with a lawyer's insinuations of negligence. Dallas makes a connection at Diane and Nick's latest party.

Everything that has happened this season on Divorce happened because of a party at Nick and Diane's house. It was at that party that the show proved to the audience how absurd and cringe-worthy it could be. Diane trying to shoot Nick was the motivation behind Frances and Robert's divorce. Sure, that journey has gotten murky over the subsequent episodes. But it's still a goal both of them are working towards. So, it's fitting that the show returns to the house that started it all with yet another party. It takes stock of just how much things have changed for these characters in the episodes since. Of course, not a whole lot has actually changed. There has been a lot of talk and absurd stories but Frances and Robert are still technically married while Nick and Diane are still bickering about the other. It's a full circle moment for the show. It's strange that such a moment doesn't actually occur in the season finale. That's next week's episode. "Another Party" largely just sets the stage for huge developments in the actual divorce between Frances and Robert. It's an interesting journey but it's still a problematic one.

Again, how "Another Party" mirrors the series premiere is interesting. Nick and Diane's house is just so interesting to look at. The directors obviously love that shot where someone outside can just see into the whole house. It really is a compelling piece of architecture and style. But there are some key differences in this sequence as well. In the premiere, it was Robert who was on the outside looking in. He was the one at a party where he had no friends except for Nick. He was miserable in his life. But he saw the craziness in Nick and Diane's world. He saw Diane reach for the gun and try to shoot. That's when he decided to become a part of the story again. It was a decision that almost killed him. But he survived in order to be divorced by Frances. And now, Frances is the one on the outside. She brought her kids with in order to seem close to them. But they spend the entire party either away from her or with their father. She sees that life inside the party is just as crazy as it has always been. Nick is no more committed to Diane than he was before his heart attack. He's still dancing around with other woman. Diane is doing her best not to drink but ultimately does anyway. Frances sees all of this from the outside. There's no key event that forces her to re-enter her life in this party. It's just a gradual return to this world. But it also takes notice of everything that is basically the same as it was all those episodes ago.

Of course, Robert and Frances still haven't made any significant progress with their divorce. In fact, it's amusing to watch the two sides confide in their lawyers while not getting any work done. They've committed to their respective attorneys. Robert hired Tony because he knew he would attack Frances for being a successful woman who may be too busy working to care for her kids. Meanwhile, Frances hired Max knowing that he would give her the kind of civil divorce she really wants. The two of them have been on different playing fields this entire time. That was meant to give Robert an edge in these proceedings. He was willing to attack Frances when she wanted this over as quickly and painlessly as possible. And now, Robert realizes that he may have crossed a line with this strategy. Nick says Frances is a negligent mother because she doesn't take her kids to various appointments throughout the week. Max notes it's a strategy that is typically used for women in custody arrangements. Here, the situation is reversed because Robert doesn't have a solid job. Frances has always had to support the family. It's made them wealthy but now it's being used to hurt her. Robert only realizes that's a problem once Frances calls him out for it. The two are able to come together at this party and agree that their tactics need to become civil once more in the divorce.

But then, Frances hires a new lawyer. Robert and Nick don't really know about Max's mini-stroke. All they think is that he is playing mind games with them to throw them off and not take him seriously. That's a fear Frances has had as well. She's worried that Max may not be up for all of this. But now, it's more important that he's not the right person to fight this battle with Tony. Tony isn't afraid to use these tactics in order to win. He's pretty much an awful human being. That's evident throughout his own little subplot with Dallas. It's amusing that she finally has a significant story. She wants sex with him just as much as he wants it. But it's still a story that ultimately is about Tony being an awful and misogynist person. That's not someone who Max knows how to fight. So, Frances gets a new attorney, Elaine Campbell played by Rectify's J. Smith Cameron. She's willing to fight for Frances in the same way that Tony will fight for Robert. It's a key change heading into the season finale. Frances is becoming much more active about her case. She's no longer choosing to react to whatever crazy stunt Robert and Tony pull. Now, she wants to be the one pulling her own moves. That makes her a better main character to watch.

And then, all of that good will quickly goes away during the final scene of the episode. It's great that Frances is standing up for herself and fighting against how awful Robert is and has always been. She needs someone like Elaine fighting for her to expose just how bad Robert has been for this family. But then, Frances is incredibly apologetic and ashamed when Robert gets served with divorce papers in the middle of Lila's basketball game. It's a stealth move meant to unnerve Robert when he feels the most confident. It's a way to show him and Tony that Frances is more serious than ever about this divorce. She's the one who officially files to split. Max wanted Robert to do it because Frances was the one who cheated. He wanted Robert to have some dignity over this whole situation. Elaine doesn't care about that. She's ready to win and will do whatever it takes in order to do so. Frances needs that in her corner because she is so awkward and uncertain about so many things in her life. She needs to stand by every decision Elaine makes on her behalf. It's just apparent right away that that's not something she can handle all that well. It builds on the cringe comedy of the whole sequence but not in a very effective or interesting way.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Another Party" was written by Gabrielle Allan & Jennifer Crittenden and directed by Jesse Peretz.
  • Tony's comments really get under Frances' skin. It gets to the point where she tries to be in her kids' lives even more. She just doesn't know how to be in that world of parent planning committees for school or on the sidelines during a game.
  • And yet, how is it that no one at the school knows who Frances is? They all have such a high opinion of Robert. But this season has shown that Frances picks the kids up from school on occasion and knows the gossip of all the other moms. But instead, she's just meant to be an outsider who is out of touch with these people and environment.
  • Also, why does Frances think it's a good idea to bring Tom and Lila to one of Nick and Diane's parties? The last one had a ton of drinking, a gunshot and a trip to the hospital. That's not a healthy environment for teenagers. Plus, they seem to be the only kids there.
  • Dallas really hasn't had much of a story this season. She's concerned about her son and nothing else. She's worried she should have brought him to the party once Frances' kids show up. But her relationship with her son shouldn't be the only thing to define her as a character.
  • Nick was too distracted by Diane to really care about Robert's proposal for the "Fun Space." And now, the renewed spark has started to fade away and he's intrigued by the business ideas Nick has for the place. So, that friendship may become important once more.