In the early going, passion was never a problem for Rob and Sharon. Whether they were screwing or fighting, they could be counted on to put every bit of their weird, self-destructive energy into the endeavor. But sustaining such intense passion over years of increasingly familiar interactions is tough, and when it’s combined with the exhaustion of babies and jobs and life … well, it’s tough for Rob and Sharon to muster up enough energy to even talk, much less ravage each other like horny teenagers.
Where the last episode of Catastrophe centered on a desire for sex, episode three is concerned with the difficulties of acting on that desire. Sharon is perfectly down for a little “mouth-cuddle” when Rob suggests it, but the distractions of Muireann sleeping nearby — along with some mood-killing lullaby music — turn their thin attempt at romance into a mild row. (I say “mild” because you can’t take an argument too seriously when one participant has a raging boner and the other isn’t fazed by being compared to Gollum.) Another sexual rain check goes uncashed, and the distance between Rob and Sharon grows by another millimeter or so. Tomorrow’s another day, right?
Yes, but years of millimeters can add up to a wide gulf, as we see with Chris and Fran. This episode is none too subtle when it comes to positioning Rob and Sharon’s friends as their potential worst-case scenario, with Fran openly cheating on Chris and Chris entertaining ideas about having sex with “women who have penises.” Granted, their relationship has always been odd, and the desires Chris is wrestling with suggest a deeper incompatibility may be at play. But both of them seem to realize a sad truth: Somewhere along the line, they gave into the inertia of their disintegrating relationship. As Fran explains to Sharon, not having sex with her husband bothered her at first, “but then something inside me died, and I just stopped caring.” Then, just to hammer the point home, she flat-out tells Sharon that if she cares about her marriage, she needs to be an active participant — an instigator, even — in their sex life.
When Sharon tries to act on Fran’s advice, Rob is unable to rise to the occasion (literally), causing her to wonder aloud whether they’re sexually incompatible. They’re clearly not — see: the entirety of this series — but they have reached a new stage of sexual compatibility. Now they have to actually work to achieve what used to come naturally. And in this case, “work” means “take a spontaneous vacation to Paris!” (Thank goodness for that $18,000 raise Rob got last episode, which, Sharon assumes, will surely help facilitate their stay at Johnny Depp’s favorite hotel.)
Although Sharon and Rob are able to ditch the kids with Fergal — who turns out to be the most expensive babysitter ever when he hits up Rob for a £15,000 loan — ditching the effects of parenthood proves a little more difficult. Sharon’s breast-pump drama provides a weird opportunity for bonding, when Rob offers to take Muireann’s place and suck the milk out of her sore, swollen breasts. (“At least I won’t shit myself when I do it.”) But the combination of Sharon’s physical pain and the hassle of acquiring a breast pump in a foreign country (even though Rob speaks decent French — better than Fergal’s, anyway) casts a pall over their first would-be romantic night in Paris.
Rob telling the flummoxed French pharmacy ladies that his wife is a “chienne psychotique” is admittedly a tad harsh — and played for laughs — but it’s hard to deny that Sharon does act like a psychotic bitch for much of this episode. Yes, she’s physically uncomfortable because the pump requires batteries they don’t have, but that doesn’t fully excuse her behavior once she settles in with a glass of wine at the fancy restaurant. She floats little bubbles of passive aggression over the table at Rob, who starts swatting at them, and before long, they’re having another fight. Unlike their bedside squabbling, though, this one indicates a deeper incompatibility between Rob’s sobriety and Sharon’s apparent desire to get wasted.
Remember, Rob doesn’t bring up this loaded topic. Sharon does. And when he tries to roll with the conversation, imagining a future where he’s old and rich and can pay people to cart his drunk ass around, she starts shaming him for what seems to be a jokey thought experiment. It’s almost as if she’s subconsciously throwing up roadblocks between them, sabotaging their romantic weekend because … why, exactly? Sharon’s no stranger to self-destructive behavior, but it’s hard to tell whether her actions at dinner are simply the effects of too much booze (on a new mother, no less), or speaking to a sincere reluctance about what she and Rob came to Paris to do.
Things don’t improve back at the hotel room, where Sharon falls while attempting to pump and smoke a joint simultaneously. Ditto the next morning, when she complains about a self-diagnosed broken rib. Rob seems to be over it at this point, recognizing that his wife isn’t rising to the occasion of romance, and asking the masseuses he forgot he ordered to “massage her in a way that will put her to sleep.” Something apparently gets lost in translation, however, because Sharon’s masseuse winds up groping her without permission. When she looks over to Rob for help, he’s dead asleep. It’s a weird grace note in this cacophony of anti-romance, and the pair seem ready to wash their hands of the whole Parisian getaway. “I don’t think we’re holiday people,” Sharon says, and Rob assures her that “it’s not special to have sex in Paris.” What they have is special, he says. If they can enjoy a Tuesday night together pretending her arms don’t work, what’s the big deal if they can’t manage to have sex in the most romantic city on Earth? Right?
Maybe, but the specter of Fran and Chris hangs over their conversation at the Centre Pompidou. While they joke about taking lovers and Jon Hamm’s tiny teeth, they know Fran and Chris are living the effects of a poorly maintained marriage back at home. (Which includes, in Chris’s case, running into Dave outside a gay bar and having to lie that he was out seeing Adam Sandler’s Fart Vacation.) “We never would have talked like this if we hadn’t come to Paris,” Sharon says, grasping for an upshot, but that doesn’t change the fact that they weren’t able to achieve what they did come to Paris to do. Talking is not what these two need; conversation is the antithesis of passion.
But they still have a little time before the train leaves, and Sharon’s revelation in the hotel lobby ultimately leads to a happy ending in the City of Lights. Her uncertainty over to what extent the masseuse “assaulted” her is more uncomfortable than funny — consent can be a sticky area for comedy — but its outcome is quintessential These Two. Turns out romance is not the spark Sharon and Rob needed to reignite their passion, but rather spite. (This makes sense, given their history.) The faint shadow of cuckolding, mixed with their earlier verbal play about taking lovers, seems to break whatever spell was keeping these two at odds. It’s a fantastically ironic resolution, considering the impetus for the trip. They never would have fucked like this if they hadn’t come to Paris.