Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Divorce gets even uglier, but its cast steps up, in “Mediation”

Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO

On a stress test, divorce is ranked higher than the death of a spouse. That’s because with divorce comes the stigma of failure. If your spouse gets cancer, there’s not a lot you can do about that. But if your marriage breaks up, there’s always the nagging thought of, “If only we’d tried a little harder.”

I think that helps explain Robert’s downward spiral this episode. The breakup of his marriage, spurred by the discovery that his wife is having an affair, has taken its toll over the past few weeks. Now he realizes that his business is failing as well, and it’s enough to make a man leave a store with a Power Bar display, or send menacing voicemails to his wife’s lover. It’s hard to explain how much Thomas Haden Church is bringing to this every week, creating a character that is not only in mourning, and flailing, but hilarious at the same time. How does he do that? The whole concept of a show about Divorce sounds like a sour enterprise, and yet there were at least a few laugh-out loud moments in tonight’s episode, almost wholly supplied by Robert. (My favorite might have been when the family is at dinner so that Frances and Robert can break to the news to the kids. Frances sounds so dire that Tom thinks that Grandpa died, and Robert bursts out, “Oh shit, did he?”)

So the guy needs a win, and honestly, his Fun Zone idea, like the ideas of many almost-successful people, is not half-bad. Depending on overhead and everything, but in the right area with lots of kids, he could indeed make buckets of money. It’s likely Robert’s desperation that makes him latch onto this idea so quickly, putting everything up for collateral (and I’m guessing this will lead to the loss of that beautiful house eventually). But it also empowers him, so his subsequent takeover of the “telling the kids” conversation is masterful. He commands the table, but also says all the right, reassuring things. What struck me most was this line: “If there was any way for us to figure out how to stay together, we would. But we just can’t.” Right now, they don’t see any way to stay together, hurtling them into this wrenching process. Even as Robert stumbles into not-great idea followed by not-great idea: following his low-rent accountant with what appears to be a low-rent lawyer—Haden Church again finds the humor in the pathos, making it impossible to take your eyes off of him.

He’s doing such an outstanding job, Parker is almost left in the dust, but she too had a few great scenes with this episode. Ryan’s stammering admittance that she’s a nice person rings hollow, because of course we haven’t really seen that side of her, certainly not in this spot-on workplace scene. She nastily forces a birthday party to hover outside while she cries to poor co-worker Ryan about Robert’s mustache (“It’s constantly damp. I don’t know why.”) Then she finally takes down Julian. I’m pretty sad that Frances’ and Julian’s affair is likely over for good, because Jemaine Clement is so good as that “French” guy Julian. (leading to my second guffaw of the night, the picture of a knife through a baguette). Sarah Jessica Parker seems to be leaning into a character who’s not as nice as Carrie Bradshaw, someone who cheats on her husband and snaps at work. Frances is obviously a bit full of herself, hilariously so, as she gives Julian another breakup speech. She subtly enjoys the fact that her ex-lover is calling her (mentioning it to Ryan), and is dismayed to learn that it’s only to get her husband from stalking him. Julian is again revealed to be a bit of a louse (as he has more than one husband after him, it seems), but again, Clement has so much fun with it, it is wholly engaging. Wish there was a way to bring him back to the fold.

Julian’s reveal of Robert’s anger may be an extra-valuable point this episode. Robert may actually still be angrier about the whole Julian thing than he’s letting on. So even though he and Frances are mostly civil to each other throughout the episode—he even asks her if she wants him to stay after they tell the kids—his readiness to declare himself less than amenable by the end of the episode may be more than financial floundering: There may be some good old revenge mixed in there as well.

Stray observations

  • Also in our supporting players, Molly Shannon’s Diane hasn’t done too much of note since attempting to shoot her husband in the pilot. So her cutting scene with Haden Church was nicely done: ”I can’t hear anything because of the tintinitus.” “Tinnitus.” “What?”
  • “We gotta move to Israel.”
  • No wonder Ryan looked so confused when Frances called him back by saying Brian.
  • I hate Jethro Tull, but I have to admit that “Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of The New Day” was a pretty great pick to depict a shot of Robert’s new life.
  • Also, Supertramp makes our first repeat appearance with another Breakfast In America track, “Oh Darling.”
  • And you really can get none more ‘70s than the Climax Blues Band, who end the episode with “Couldn’t Get It Right.” Like the song this episode opens with, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more appropriate.