After last week’s blowup and signing of divorce papers, where else was Scenes From A Marriage supposed to take Jessica Chastain’s Mira and Oscar Isaac’s Jonathan? Naturally, back together. Divorce suits them, with the finale showing the couple reunited and more at peace than ever before, free from their shared baggage yet still unable (and unwilling) to break the grasp they have on each other. It’s meant as an episode of reflection, but because previous episodes have given the relationship a flimsy foundation, Scenes still ends on its flattest note.
The end begins by breaking the claustrophobic confines of their house for the first time. Years on, Jonathan attends his father’s funeral and Mira meets her former lover Poli for lunch, both with ironically anticlimactic results given how insular the preceding action has been. Turns out Poli is, like, just a guy, unremarkably so. And Jonathan’s family dynamic, so eloquently described in his written therapy exercises, is the kind of unsentimental nuclear unit you might expect.
If you are going to have a standard “stay together for the kids” philosophical debate between mother and son, you likely can’t do better than have the maternal half played by the great Tovah Feldshuh. Like Nicole Beharie in the first episode, Feldshuh arrives as a fully formed and fascinating presence, bringing life to the throwaway details and making her character’s perspective play as less of a cliche than it is. But she leaves us as quickly as she arrives, with Jonathan in a hurry to leave despite the occasion.
Her hint of suspicion is valid because Jonathan is off to a secret romantic getaway with Mira, with Ava staying over at a friend’s house. In one of the least romantic gestures imaginable, like ordering Grubhub from the restaurant that gave you food poisoning or rebooking with a hairstylist that shaved off your eyebrow, Jonathan has found their old home on Airbnb and decided to book it for their fling. Escaping the battleground of their home is a short-lived relief for us in the audience, but for the former marrieds, it sparks morbidly curious nostalgia that maybe we don’t have to understand.
The two spy through the house together, lurking around like ghosts from the past. The new owners have completely revamped the place in function and fashion. The layout is different, their taste is better than the schlumpy furniture Mira once mocked (even though she hates the renovation choices), Ava’s room now occupied by a bunch of boys with bunk beds. A remodeled house on Airbnb is an interesting metaphor for what their relationship has become: improved and reimagined, but not meant to regularly inhabit.
But divorce suits them. There are marked signs of growth between them where there once was recurring issues in their relationship. Mira participated in shiva for Jonathan’s father despite her previous judgment of Jonathan’s faith, Jonathan is at ease with the kind of sexual expression Mira wanted. Both are unguarded in laying bare how their parents’ relationships have haunted them, accepting in the degrees to which they need to or can’t be alone. Chastain and Isaac are relaxed here, but unfortunately, so is Levi. We should be fascinated by this new normal for them, or surprised; instead, Levi loose hold on the tension of our expectations turns this secret tryst too casual, a non-event. It’s up to the actors to make it interesting, but as the series has shown, they can only do so much on their own.
One small surprise comes with the reveal that Jonathan has remarried and now has an infant son. But it’s less the situation that surprises than it is a new level of understanding he has achieved. It reveals a role reversal on Mira’s infidelity with Poli, with Mira as only one of several infidelities Jonathan has had. When he describes his hesitancy to enter this marriage and its sexlessness, it’s first difficult to tell if he’s talking about his marriage to Mira, but ultimately, he starts to sound a lot like she used to. “I’ll never love anybody the way that I loved you,” he tells her, and part of that is that he understands the pain he had caused her (and vice versa) in a way he can only now avoid.
They break into the attic and spend the evening there, a space they once imagined remodeling but also likely free from any darker memories. This leaves them to have one of their most frank conversations in what is now a teenage girl’s bedroom. The setting paints them more as immature than humanly messy, and I’m not quite sure that is the intention. But when they have sex, it starkly contrasts the previous episode’s manic act, showing them at their most patient and intoxicated with one another.
Jonathan awakes in the night with a nightmare, fearing he can’t love or be loved, just as Liv Ullman did in Bergman’s original. Mira spells out their “deranged… complicated” love for the audience, which could be a clunky but acceptable closing beat if not for what she follows it with. “In the middle of the night, without any fanfare, in a dark house somewhere in the world,” she mutters as they go back to sleep. “What’s that?” Jonathan asks. “It’s from a movie,” she says, launching my palm straight to my forehead. It’s a self-aware callback to Ingmar Bergman, the hardest of winks toward the audience.
Did you think the episode would spare us the behind-the-scenes device that has beleaguered all other episodes? Because this literal invoking of Bergman launches straight into Scenes’ final and most thematically derailing one. We see the shoot wrap, with Chastain and Isaac given robes, the camera following them in awe as they wander hand-in-hand to their dressing rooms. If this shattered fourth wall hasn’t made previous episodes feel like navelgazing at acting exercises, Levi sure makes this final one have that superficial vibe.
The problem is how much this device exposes the dampness of Levi’s vision. It aims to be a realistic drama, but presenting the artifice to the audience compromises that realism; directly referencing the original like it is something that exists in Mira’s world rings of the muddiest of intentions. And what are we left to consider? The irrelevance of marriage to love and enduring connection? If this is the deepest truth the series has unveiled about what marriage means (today or whenever), it unfortunately proves to be irrelevant itself. Bergman claimed that his series caused an increase of divorces in its native Sweden, but I doubt Levi’s audience is shaken enough to see themselves here, much less question themselves.
Instead this robed walk gives us a curtain call for Chastain and Isaac. Even in this minor key finale, they consistently elevated Scenes with absorbing specificity. Chastain presented a Mira who changed seismically with each episode and mapped them with precision, Isaac burned slower but maybe even deeper for how he arrived at Jonathan’s final vulnerability. All along they have been highly watchable, giving excoriating performances in a series that had little idea on how to use their work to reflect something meaningful. This ending feels like Levi fanboying at a stage door and makes us think more about the actors themselves than what they have created, and it’s a disservice to them both.
But we are nevertheless left with the hope that like Mira and Jonathan, Chastain and Isaac won’t be able to keep away from each other, becoming perennial screen partners like Liz and Dick, or Hepburn and Tracy. Just hopefully in something more exciting next time.
- The most relatable moment in the episode is Ava calling Mira to request permission to watch a PG-13 movie. We’ve all been there.
- It looks like Mira’s former bedroom closet is filled with all of her costumes from the previous episodes. Talk about haunting the house.
- Jonathan has a TED Talk but we’re not given details on what it is about? Okay, humblebrag.