After a relationship hits a certain point, the concept of a "date" changes. When a relationship is new, dates are about getting to know each other and fostering romance. They can be terrifying or electrifying, and they're generally exciting in some way or another. But once you're spending most of your time with a partner — living with them, raising children with them, eating dinner with them every night, nagging them to pick up their dirty underwear — the idea of a "date" can be entirely different. Within the context of marriage, a "date" is often about reaffirming that charged sense of passion. It's an attempt to recapture the excitement and energy of a relationship in fresh bloom, with all the heightened expectations it implies. And within this context, no marital date is more loaded than the wedding-anniversary date.
This rings especially true for Sharon and Rob, whose anniversary falls on the same day their son Frankie was born prematurely. Last season gave us a rough sketch of the timeline, and we're reminded early in this episode that their wedding shared a date with Frankie's birthday. (Rob needs to get his morning boner under control because the little tot will soon run into their room, demanding presents.) It's not all rosy, of course. The flirtatious energy that they display in bed on the morning of their three-year anniversary distracts us from a fraught memory: The day Frankie was born was also the day Frankie almost died, and so Sharon and Rob's anniversary is loaded with even more emotional baggage than a typical one.
Later in the episode, this unfortunate confluence of romance and trauma is addressed in heartbreaking fashion, but it's alluded to early in Rob's stated desire to do something different for their anniversary. He's tired of their usual routine of going to a restaurant, where Sharon will get drunk while Rob eats two desserts. Most wives would be touched by, or at least humor, Rob's plan for the pair for them to take a cheese-making/appreciation course. But Sharon is not most wives, and openly mocks his attempt at a creative date. (Her disappointment begins to manifest even earlier in the night, when Rob tells the babysitter, Anna — played by Misfits' Lauren Socha! — that they'll be home by, ugh, 11 p.m.) She quickly steers their anniversary date back onto its predetermined course — dinner at a restaurant — with a determination that suggests, deep down somewhere, she wants the night to go down that preordained path. Or maybe she just wants to get drunk. It's hard to tell with Sharon these days.
Rob and Sharon aren't the only Catastrophe characters observing date night, either. This episode brings the series' supporting cast to the fore, so much so that it essentially function as an ensemble piece. Chris and Fran's separation has led them to go on two very different dates, while Rob's friend Dave faces a high-pressure situation of his own: Hanging out with a bunch of his new girlfriend's "do-gooder" friends. Each of these outings (or in-call, in Chris's case) comes loaded with its own specific baggage, but all three also echo what's happening with Rob and Sharon.
As I mentioned in my last recap, Chris and Fran function as a worst-case version of Rob and Sharon's future, one where the tedium of married life has doused any lingering embers of passion. So far, Chris and Fran's separation has played out around the edges of the season, but this episode puts their story line on the same level as Rob and Sharon's. Whether that's a blessing or a curse to will depend on a viewer's tolerance for these characters.
On the surface, Fran appears to be handily "winning" her and Chris's separation. She's carrying on a serious affair with Patrick, who seems like a nice enough bloke when he's not making little remarks about Fran's age. ("Sometimes when a woman your age wears her hair long, it can really drag her face down.") Chris, meanwhile, hesitantly acts on the desires he expressed to Rob about having sex with transgender women, and has a "date" with an escort that seems to go well ("Here's an extra £20 for the balls thing …"). It's precisely the sort of "transactional" cheating that Rob talked about with Sharon at the top of the episode — except it's not really even cheating — and it leaves Chris visibly shaken.
Despite these moves, neither Fran nor Chris seems fully comfortable with the "separate" aspect of their separation. Fran drops by Chris's pad to hand off some laundry she "accidentally" washed for him, and she keeps finding ways to mention him around Patrick and others. When Patrick feebly attempts to propose marriage — "I'm not getting any younger you know, and neither are you" — Fran shuts him down before the words can even leave his mouth. (Later, she reminds him that she wants to keep things "simple" until her son turns 18.) And when Chris calls Fran after his rendezvous, it becomes clear why he seemed so unsettled. After such an unfamiliar experience, he's missing the little comforts of married life: The creaking floorboards, the way Fran makes a sandwich, the way she says "ta-da" after taking popcorn out of the microwave. Fran points out, correctly, that these little things are not enough to sustain a marriage — "You didn't miss me enough when I was there" — but her and Chris' reactions to their date nights highlight how stability and familiarity can suddenly seem important when you no longer have them. Now free to chase their individual passions, they're both missing the mundane comforts of marriage.
Of course, Dave's romantic life is wildly different than any other on Catastrophe. He and Catherine are just entering that fresh-bloom stage, where every new revelation can make a person seem a little more amazing. The flip side, however, is that the wrong revelation can completely tank a relationship. That's exactly what happens during Dave's date with Catherine, where he reveals his sobriety as some sort of a weird one-upmanship maneuver on Catherine's friend Ash. When she dumps him, cruelly and publicly, he whines that it's because his "tale of redemption isn't inspirational enough." He might be right — Catherine did seem really into Ash's story — but it's also been made clear (to us, via Rob) that Dave's sobriety is nowhere near as solid as he'd like to think.
Rob's sobriety has come up a few times times so far this season, always in the context of Sharon being hostile or unsupportive. (See: When she orders another bottle of wine to cope with their traumatic anniversary dinner.) Rob has been sober for much longer than Dave, but it's hard not to feel a foreboding chill as we watch Dave tumble off the wagon in the episode's closing moments, unable to reach Rob for the help he needs. Support and stability are incredibly important to maintaining sobriety — about as important as they are to maintaining a marriage. Passion and excitement are all well and good when it comes to date night, but without something stable to come home to, what's the point?