Divorce Recap: The Benediction


Season 1 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating *****
Sarah Jessica Parker as Frances, Thomas Haden Church as Robert. Photo: HBO

We open in Frances’s and Robert’s respective homes, as usual. He is kickboxing and Frances is throwing out his stuff. A manila folder labeled “BUSINESS FORMS” ends up containing a bunch of Julia Roberts photos ripped out of magazines. Frances rolls her eyes. No wonder the dude’s bankrupt.

Frances dresses up and heads into the city, where she eye-bangs a handsome dude in a park, relishing her new freedom. She’s in town to staff an executive-level events-coordinator position at Sotheby’s. It’s a job she clearly wants for herself: She casually name-drops the painters on the wall, even though she doesn’t seem to realize it until the Sotheby’s staff member mentions they’d want someone with contacts and a passion for art. Someone like Frances, actually!

“I’d like to be considered,” she blurts out, then reassures them that she’ll still put together a top-notch list of competitors to go up against her. (Is this allowed? I feel like … no?)

As Diane sensually sponge-bathes Nick, he muses about how much this experience has led him to realize Diane would be a great mom. She’s stunned: “This is different! You’re an adult man and I just grabbed your dick. That’s not the kind of thing you do to a baby.” Their marriage has only just healed from years of bitterness and bickering, and she’s thrilled with the way things are. But Nick’s near-death experience has given him perspective, i.e. his midlife crisis has made him want to own a cool new thing, such as a red Maserati or a tiny human.

Sotheby’s gives Frances a call as she’s in the car with Dallas. They’re making her an offer! As the two enthuse, they spot Robert walking with the kids from church, looking disconcertingly at home. Despite the recent Christmas episode, these characters are pretty much secular. Dallas makes a face: “He’s talking to the … Father guy.” Back at her office, she prepares to strategically drag the church trip out of Tom, but he readily provides the information upfront, super-casual. Was there some kind of special event? Nope, just the benediction, he replies casually. “The benediction?” Frances asks in disbelief. But Tom just shrugs. He had fun.

Next, Robert and the kids are at the archery range. He praises Lila on being such a good shot, and asks Tom if he did anything exciting lately. He got an A-plus on his reptile paper. Robert praises him, too, and sweeps them both into a big hug. It’s a reminder that Frances’s unhappiness has led her to self-isolate; even post-split, her scenes with the kids radiate with nervous energy. On the other hand, Robert has his flaws, but he’s consistently been a fantastic dad. It almost explains why Frances stayed with him so long. It doesn’t explain why they started dating, though. The best explanation I can think of is, since he was a finance bro back then, she figured she’d be able to live off his salary and become a gallery owner slash dilettante. In which case, Frances, whatever you put out in the universe will come back to you tenfold.

“Dad, are you okay?” Lila asks. But kids are better at seeing through grown-ups. He pauses for a telling moment, then yells, “I’m super-okay!”

They bring home Tom’s project, a snake. Frances is not having it. His enthusiasm when she explains she’s redoing Robert’s office to become a reading room makes her think something’s up. There is: He got really lonely when he moved out, and found “the big guy.” He’s even happy for her new job at Sotheby’s. It’s what she’s been waiting for all season! It’s mature and kind and a new indoor-voice! Of course, it totally freaks her out. Is this the start of a villainous Frances? Maybe the show turns on its head and makes Frances the unreasonable buffoon for once? I’d be down for that.

Frances and Dallas have a midday white-wine sesh and discuss Robert’s new attitude. Dallas thinks he’s messing with her. Frances admits that his happiness is killing her vibe. Riley, Cole’s girlfriend and resident teenage siren, struts out of the kitchen with a drink of water, smirks, and retreats to Cole’s room. “Slut,” Dallas mumbles. “Rubbing her scent on everything, drinking water because she’s so thirsty from the good fucking.” Dude, that’s your son you’re talking about. Dallas has a vibrator, right? Who am I kidding; she has six.

Dallas points out that whatever Frances makes before they’re divorced will be split with Robert. Max, still stroke-addled, confirms this to a petrified Frances. She asks her soon-to-be boss whether he might possibly defer the job, and tries to get sympathy by asking if he’s divorced. “My wife passed away,” he replies. Yeesh. She offers to give him six months of free work in return. For a headhunter, she’s really bad at knowing corporate limits. They give her a hard no, obviously. She slinks out, embarrassed. Meanwhile, at church, Robert tells his new friends how far he’s come since he first began attending, although he goes into a bit of a rage-spiral about Julian, the “French asshole” whom Frances “spread it for.” (Reminder: This dude recently mistook “peace be with you” at midnight mass for “pleased to meet you.”)

Frances gets on the phone with the Sotheby’s lady and passes on the job of her dreams, cutting her nose off to spite her face. Why wouldn’t she talk to Robert about it, while he’s still basking in his newfound serenity and thus more likely to sign papers that might spare Frances the huge income dent? Because her happiness just bugs him too much. That’s why. She tries not to burn the bridge in the process, but that’s impossible at this point.

Meanwhile, Robert lurks in the back of one of Julian’s lectures. It features slides of nude women, and he raises his hand when the opportunity comes. “Perhaps the artist didn’t see these women as human beings,” Robert says. “Perhaps they were nothing more than object d’perverted animal desire.” The class giggles. Robert goes on in this fashion until Julian politely shuts it down.

But he corners Julian in the hallway, introducing himself: “Robert Dufresne. You fucked my wife.” Blank stare from Julian. Robert, annoyed: “… Frances Dufresne.” He gives Julian a gun (!?) and says, “You know what to do with this.” Then he tells Julian that he forgives him, gives him a hug, and lets him flee down the stairs, terrified. It might be the first time Robert’s actually been as threatening as he thinks he is.

It turns out Robert’s been injecting himself with testosterone enanthate. So he has been roided-up for who knows how long! This explains his bellowing enthusiasm, but not why he’s suddenly acting so Zen in certain moments. Googling “testosterone enanthate” doesn’t show any studies that explain it’s a downer. Maybe it just causes extreme mood swings? If you’re a medical professional or recreational steroid user, feel free to enlighten us all in the comments! Anyway, this revelation makes you see the previous scene at the archery range through a much bleaker lens.

The kids move the snake out of Frances’s reading room, and she relaxes back in her chair with a book. She takes off her engagement ring. Two more episodes to go in the season. Is that enough time to flip the script and make Robert the sympathetic one?

Divorce Recap: The Benediction