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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Divorce shuts its doors but opens the window for a revitalized relationship

Illustration for article titled Divorce shuts its doors but opens the window for a revitalized relationship
Photo: Craig Blankenhorn (HBO)

The finale of any episode is challenging—the writers have to say goodbye to these characters (at least until the revival), tie up any loose ends, and hopefully leave the viewer with an overall positive feeling about the series that came before it. Sometimes, a finale can have dire consequences: I’m still bugged about the much-ado-about-nothing hoopla about the Seinfeld finale and the bait-and-switch of the How I Met Your Mother one, years later.


Stakes are a little lower for a less-profile series like this one, but the creators of Divorce should be proud of the way things turned out. Especially since the final episode smartly starts out with a shot of one of the most heart-wrenching scenes from the show’s first season: the moment when Robert and Frances tell their kids they’re splitting up. As I remember it, the kids seemed pretty unfazed, and Tom was especially unsurprised. Also, anyone with a mustache and/or a corduroy jacket should seriously reconsider how those style choices are affecting their looks overall.

But it was just one of many emotional minefields over the first two seasons, kind of a divorce rollercoaster as our two main characters careened from one horrifying event to the next: failed mediation, holidays with the almost-ex-in-laws, dueling lawyers across a giant conference table.

The pair has come a long way since then, and now that all the divorce dust as settled, Robert and Frances now have gone through a whole new appraisal of each other. The Frances of season one was so desperate to get out of her marriage (and the affair with Julian, played by the sorely missed Jemaine Clement), how did she think things were going to play out? Her gallery dream went up in smoke, she hasn’t really had a satisfactory post-marriage relationship, and her living situation has downsized considerably.

My favorite moment this episode, and maybe the series, is when Frances and Robert are in the garage, joking about how hard post-divorce life is, certainly not as great as they make it look in the brochure. She says, “I guess I couldn’t know how hard it was gonna be.” He asks, “What’s that?” and she says, “Just knowing when it’s worth it… and when it’s not.” She’s certainly learned a lot about herself since the marriage dissolved, but is her life actually better than it was when she was married to Robert? Or in some ways is it worse?

What makes the moment perfect is that Frances then whips her head around to avoid looking at Robert head-on. Otherwise, the way he’s gazing at her so intently (and does so throughout the episode, if you notice, indicating that Jackie is spot-on), the two will definitely be caught in an emotional gaze that means everything. She’s not there yet, so she turns her head. But that doesn’t mean she won’t get there eventually. I mean, a guy who leaves you the key so you can come over and steal that vinyl collection? Even Frances has to notice that she has more genuine chemistry with Robert than she had with Henry, or Andrew, or Julian, or anyone else who’s likely to come along.


Does that mean that the two were wrong to get divorced in the first place? I really don’t think so. They had a lot of to work out: For example, if Frances was so unhappy with her life, why didn’t she try the gallery idea before? And Robert’s finance situation was a shambles that seems to have somehow righted itself. After all those years, the two probably took each other for granted. If they get back together—in my mind, still a slight if—they will do so by absolutely appreciating each other and what they have, making this final relationship one that will last. But as we watch this final episode, we can see the signs: mirrored body language, knowing smiles, the fact that Frances touches on his elbow Robert by way of greeting mid-episode, and by the end, she’s hugging him goodbye, along with the rest of her family. Divorce’s final shots depict the family as happy as they’ve ever been.

It’s the last thing we would have thought was possible compared to the first season of the show, but that’s to the credit of the writing, and really, the skill of actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church, able to convey this mixture of hostility, compassion, and chemistry so effectively, and with such intensity. Yes, the side characters were enjoyable (was glad to see Tracy Letts make one last appearance tonight) and offered some distraction, but overall, the Robert and Frances show offered a fascinating post-marriage exploration. It made for a gem of the show that I hope gets some play on a streaming service or something. At the very least, Divorce showed how the relationship between two people can contain multitudes, and if the tie between the two is strong enough—despite whatever the latest legal status is—is never really over.


Stray observations

  • Robert’s look of confusion when Jackie calls him out on still being in love with Frances is hilarious.
  • Also a laugh-out loud moment: “I don’t actually think you’re as nuts as you seem.”
  • The ladies’ last night out was fatalistic but fun—nobody can resist the Chicken Dance.
  • Dallas and Diane get nicely tied-up moments as well. Diane’s fate is still a little dark—despite that luxurious apartment, she may have to unlock that door eventually. But Diane taking her maternal instincts and using them to help foster kids is perfect.
  • As Diane and Dallas’ storylines wrap up, Supertramp’s “Give A Little Bit” kicks off, an ideal nod to the ‘70s songs that used to soundtrack the series. Not only does it properly offer the generosity theme that ends the show—“Give a little bit of your love to me / I’ll give a little bit of my life for you”—its last line is also very telling: “We’re on our way back home.”
  • But then just in case we’re all getting too comfortable: The song over the credits then switches to Yes’ “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”: “Be yourself / Give your free will a chance / You’ve got to want to succeed.”
  • And that’s a wrap on Divorce. Thanks for hanging out, everybody! Look for my review with Thomas Haden Church on the site next week, he has a lot of interesting things to say about the show (and other many things!) Thanks for reading.

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.