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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Tragedy can draw people together even after Divorce

Photos: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
Photos: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
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After regular breakups, you can usually go on with your life and never see that person again, if that’s your inclination. Divorce is different, especially when kids are involved, so Divorce’s Frances and Robert are still entwined in each other’s lives. In the sandwich generation, as middle-aged people take care of both their children and their aging parents, petty disagreements slide by the wayside when life-and-death matters enter the picture, as they inevitably will.

The illness of Robert’s father results in the strongest Robert and Frances episode we’ve had in awhile, as a guilt-ridden Frances feels inclined to head to Ohio and help her ex deal with his sick dad and overbearing sister Cathy (a brilliantly screechy Amy Sedaris). Like Frances, I also have a filterless relative who drops comments like, “Oh, thank God you got your hair cut. Don’t ever let it grow that long again, promise me,” or knocks out an aside to my husband like, “Oh, have you gained weight too?” Because these people are family, all I can usually do is stare in slack-jawed astonishment and hunt around for the next chardonnay bottle. So I couldn’t help but admire Frances’ rant at Cathy, much as I’ll never be able to equal it in real life.


The genius of Divorce is that it can take a tension-filled scene like the one over Frank’s hospital bed and make it not only effective, but very, very funny, with Frances lamely trying to dismiss Cathy’s husband’s suicide attempt as “water under the bridge.” Sedaris certainly helps this effort, always brave and humility-free enough to dive into the horrible character of Cathy, pettily fighting over a six-dollar cable bill and a green FiestaWare pitcher. She and Haden Church perfectly play off of each other, so that Robert’s inevitable slug to the wall and bloody knuckles become more of a punchline than anything else.

Robert’s talks with his father also offer some insights into why he’s the kind of man and father that he is. Even despite what appears to be a fairly terrible role model, Robert is far from violent (give or take a wall), which may help explain why he seems so emotionally closed-off sometimes, and was especially so during his marriage.

Jackie’s brief scene with her therapist Dallas seems like an odd aside, until it’s revealed to be a clever reminder. Dallas cautions a giddy Jackie about the unrealistic expectations set forth in the first blush of romance. We then see Robert and Frances fondly reminiscing about times before the kids, when Robert first brought her home to show off his sweet, beautiful, smoking hot girlfriend. Those initial reactions rarely turn out to be the longest-lasting: Robert likely wouldn’t still refer to Frances as sweet (and according to Jackie, she comes off as kind of a nutjob from his various descriptions). But judging from the way she flies out to Ohio uninvited and takes down his sister, the bond between them remains strong, despite their legal status. Robert and Frances’ subsequent night together after seems as inevitable as breathing, two people who have circled in and out of each other’s lives forever and for a brief moment, are wholly united again.

An even odder and unfortunate aside is the pairing of Diane and Tom: am praying that Diane isn’t so desperate for attention that she’ll attempt to get it even from her friend’s teenage son, but in the weird boutique scene, that’s where my mind went.


Frances’ Tinder hookup went hilariously nowhere, but Robert and Jackie seem surprisingly solid. After the reveal of Frances’ affair last season, he’s due for a win. But this may be the second time (How I Met Your Mother was first) that Becki Newton is stuck playing the relationship hurdle on the way to endgame, because my favorite part of Divorce is how Robert and Frances really don’t seem to be done with each other, especially in episodes like this one.

Stray observations

  • Apparently, Frances and Dallas have patched things up after the Tony Silvercreek incident.
  • Lila hugged her mom, yay.
  • THC killing it as usual, whether Robert is assuring his daughter he’ll fix her mess (“The red nail polish in the grout? That’ll clean up like a dream”) or desperately trying not to kill his sister who’s urging their comatose dad to go play fetch with his dead dog in heaven (“I’m trying to remain calm, but in about two seconds, I have to choke her to death.”)
  • I get that Frances’ fashion sense is made up of a multitude of brightly patterned shirt dresses—but that pink one over the green henley at the beginning of the episode was really dowdy. What was going on there?
  • Another perfect ’70s song to end an episode and summarize Frances’ and Robert’s permanent draw to each other: 1978’s “Magnet And Steel” was the biggest hit for solo artist Walter Egan. Its Fleetwood Mac vibe is due to the fact that it was produced by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who also sang backup, and was apparently inspired by Nicks.

Next week: Lila turns 13, god help us all.


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

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