Divorce Recap: the Talk


Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: HBO

If Divorce has made one thing clear, it’s that Frances and Robert’s unraveling marriage brings out the worst in both of them. This week, we bear witness to their capacity to bullshit — not just to others, but to themselves. To underscore the theme, “Meditation” includes multiple references to literal No. 2s, a.k.a. what Robert refers to as “twosies.” In case his mustache wasn’t enough to put you off.

Robert’s squatting in one of the houses he’s working on and peeing into a bucket, just like he threatened to do in the pilot. He and Frances have their first session with a mediator, who’s super-chill about being a shiksa version of Fran Lebowitz. She commends the pair for their willingness to get along and divide their assets fairly.

Not so fast! Julian calls Frances. She doesn’t pick up, pretending it’s a telemarketer.

Frances and Robert are assigned homework in the form of financial-disclosure forms. (“It’s like the first day of divorce school!” he says.) They’re to report all earnings on both sides, something that immediately puts Robert on edge. They still haven’t told the kids, instead spinning yet another story about Robert sleeping in the house to “guard against vandals.” The mediator, justly dismayed, tells them to get on with it already.

Frances enlists an underling named Ryan to get a comprehensive financial analysis of her earnings. When he asks what for, she snaps at him and apologizes immediately, spilling her guts about the divorce and the affair right there in the empty conference room. “I’m a private person,” she says, while literally having a meltdown as her entire office watches and waits to hold a birthday party. She calls Ryan by the wrong name (like she did in the pilot!), and the moment it’s his turn to talk, she peaces out, exhibiting more than a glimmer of self-absorption.

While Frances’s image of herself is bullshit, Robert’s distortion of the truth is applied to the people around him. It turns out he doesn’t have to freak out about Frances taking him for everything he’s got, because there’s nothing to take. His accountant Don informs him that the houses haven’t been selling, he’s made bad business decisions, and he’s basically hemorrhaging cash. “Stop spending money like you actually have money,” says Don. “Because you don’t.”

That night, they take the kids to a nice restaurant for the Divorce Talk, but Robert’s more focused on the price of four ice-cream sandwiches and whether his salad comes free with the pasta. He also has to run to the bathroom and puke. Unsurprisingly, they don’t go through with the Talk that evening. Frances yells at him after dinner, in full view of the kids.

That night, Frances is up in bed reading The Great Gatsby (tenth-grade English class much?) when Julian texts her rather than calling — like any sensible person having an affair in 2016. Again, she refuses to answer. He then leaves a message on the Dufresne landline, using an appropriately quirky fake name, natch. (It’s Barnaby.)

Meanwhile, Robert attempts financial responsibility by trying to return some sports equipment. Too bad he can only get store credit. He futilely rages at the manager and settles for a shelf full of PowerBars.

After ignoring his multiple calls, Frances finally pays Julian a visit, reminiscing about the excitement of their affair but gently urging him to let her go. “Okay,” he says easily, and then drops the bomb: “Can you ask your husband to stop calling me?” Apparently Robert’s been leaving creepy voice mails in broken French (Julian’s still not French) — and that’s why Julian kept calling her. Not because he was wasting away of heartbreak in his West Elm catalogue of an apartment. It’s just the ego kick she needed. “Go fuck yourself,” she snaps on her way out, leaving the second half unsaid: Because I won’t be doing it anymore.

Robert swings by Nick’s place, where he’s now on bed rest, with last year’s swimsuit edition: “Some of the girls in there are smokin’ hot. We gotta move to Israel.” It’s a cover for his real motive, though. He has some terrible idea about starting a rock-climbing-and-laser-tag spot for kids in a vacant lot. (Which he wants to buy. So much for financial responsibility!) He pitches it to Nick as a potential investor, in his typical tone-deaf way — Nick can’t even go to the bathroom by himself, let alone scale a rock wall. Diane interjects with some legit concerns about injury lawsuits, and Robert tries to guilt her into investing by reminding her that she nearly shot him. It doesn’t work.

He arrives at the Dufresne residence jacked up on PowerBars and indignation, ready to have the Actual Divorce Talk with the kids at the kitchen table. Frances, anticipating tears, beats around the bush with vague references to living better, when Robert cuts in: “We’re getting a divorce.” But instead of the expected blustery word vomit, he goes on to explain it to the kids — and, surprisingly, he’s way better at it than Frances. He doesn’t condescend to them, and he’s honest without being hurtful or insensitive. Maybe this was the guy Frances fell in love with. But unsurprisingly, the kids already figured it out. At least Tom did, and he “explained it” to his little sister, Lila. Which is undoubtedly more traumatizing than if her parents had just been upfront about it. “It’s the most obvious fuckin’ thing I’ve ever seen,” Tom says. Frances asks if they have any questions. They do not. They are over it.

Of course, the real-estate agent is wary of selling a lot to Robert without an investor. Robert uses the divorce the same way he tried to use Diane’s drunken gunplay: as a sob story to get what he wants. Once again, no dice. But actually, the agent tells Robert, since he’s not the primary breadwinner, he’s got a lot to gain financially. (Robert is dumb as a brick, but it’s hard to believe even he wouldn’t know this.)

As Frances and the mediator wait for Robert at the next session, she says they finally told the kids — and that Robert was great with them. “It was really … surprising,” she says. Naturally, just as she’s beginning to give him the benefit of the doubt, he’s across town in a lawyer’s office, taking the lowest possible road.

The lawyer asks: Would Robert call his divorce amicable? Or contentious? “Not sure yet,” he says. And then: “Possibly the latter.”

Dum, dum, DUMMMM!

Other Notes:

  • The best line of the episode? Frances telling Ryan that Robert grew a “Ye Olde” mustache just to piss her off: “It’s constantly damp,” she sobs. “I have no idea why.”
  • Was there a mandate in the 1970s that required every rock song to include a pan flute?
  • The real-estate agent, on why Robert could get Frances’s assets: “My brother-in-law just went through this with my fuckin’ bitch of a sister, and he came out of it pretty well. Bought himself a new Audi.”

Divorce Recap: the Talk