Rob should have stayed in bed today. She could have just called in sick, had Simon mind the store, stayed home, gotten high, it would have been fine. But no. Into work she went, where she was miserable and bored, followed by miserable and pointlessly escalating a situation with Cherise, followed by miserable and grudgingly accepting Simon’s invitation to have a drink with him and Cherise.
Once at the bar, Simon and Cherise realize, to their horror, that it’s Rob’s birthday. She assures them it’s fine, she has a plan for a quiet evening in with champagne, a boatload of Indian takeout, and finally starting to watch The Sopranos. That’s a decent plan, and it too would have been fine, had she just followed through with it. Instead, she accepts a FaceTime call from her mom, and everything goes downhill from there. Which is too bad, because Rob’s mom is played by Jessica Hecht! Turning in another excellent guest performance on a buzzy show! (She’s also recently been on Succession as Logan Roy’s unauthorized biographer and on Dickinson as Emily’s horny world traveler aunt Lavinia.)
It’s always great to see Jessica Hecht! Even when she’s dispensing advice that will go horribly wrong, as it will in this case. Rob grudgingly agrees that perhaps her mom’s advice to go out, get high, have sex and have fun is worth taking, so after working her way fruitlessly through most of her contacts, she’s stuck actually going out when her last option, Tanya, answers the call. Tanya’s enthusiasm for going out for birthday drinks with next to no notice is so high-pitched that it threatens the structural integrity of Rob’s eardrums.
At the club, there’s lots of girlfriendly squeeing, and Tanya announces that having a baby is no obstacle to wielding her VIP juice for her favorite former roommate and the other friend she’s invited. Tanya, wearing a plunging v-neck dress, explains that in addition to being happy to see Rob, she hasn’t left the house in months and her entire life currently revolves around breastfeeding and pumping breastmilk in an endless cycle. This baby is a surprise to Rob, who assures Tanya that she looks as hot as ever.
I know New York is the city that never sleeps, and I know that I’m a strong homebody. I also know what life is like with a nursing infant, and the idea that the mother of such an infant would have her husband zip her into a hot dress to hit the club with a friend she hasn’t heard from in so long that said friend doesn’t even know she has a baby is… not super believable to me. On the other hand, Tara Summers is really selling it in her performance, which has a delightful Ari Graynor energy I would like to see more of.
Tanya breaks off the conversation when she sees a guy she slept with once, who has been obsessed with her ever since. They pop out to the balcony to evade him, but it turns out that he’s Rob’s second friend we’ve never seen before, Squid. He’s a musician, and he doesn’t remember Tanya at all.
A conciliatory Clyde calls from his climbing gym (at 10:30pm? okay?) wanting to get together because he feels badly about how he left things the last time (abruptly, after punching the sloe gin fizz drinker at the Allied). They agree to meet up in about an hour. It’s nice to be thought of, even if the whole thing is a little awkward.
Speaking of awkward! A tray of birthday shots arrive for the table, but Squid begs off: he’s been sober nearly three years. Among the many benefits of sobriety is the fact that now he can remember what he did on any given evening, rather than when he was drinking and made lots of bad decisions that he can’t remember. Indeed! Tanya and Rob exchange looks, then down their shots.
The evening at the club continues to be a parade of mortifications and boredom: Tanya won’t shut up about her baby; Squid wants to talk about AA; a waitress brings out a cake frosted with pink roses as a group of women sing happy birthday to… Jessica at the next table. When Tanya and Squid gamely try to save the moment, it’s very bad, but Rob goes along with it, doing another shot, fake-smiling, and going “whoooo, 30!”
Tanya and Squid are aghast: “you’re 30? With just us? There should be more people here!” This hasn’t been a great year for Rob as a maintainer of friendships.
Everyone takes their leave, and as Rob heads out, she sees Cherise working the coat check. She’s puzzled but doesn’t pursue it. Once out of the club, she puts on her headphones and plays Frank Ocean’s “Nikes” as she walks through town.
When Mac calls Rob to wish her a happy birthday, it’s a pleasant surprise, and when he invites her to have a birthday drink with him, she’s rightly suspicious: “What, is Lily out of town or something?” Actually, yes. Where does this leave her plan with Clyde?
Mac meets Rob outside the Allied, her favorite pizza and a six-pack in hand. Okay, the drink is now a lowkey date up on the roof. As they chomp amicably, Rob inquires about the wedding planning, and Mac’s answer is definitely weird. Somehow Lily is taking it all in stride, sort of unnervingly mellow about it, while everyone else in their lives wants it to be just so, which makes him feel anxious. He’s worried that he’ll ruin this engagement like he did theirs by pushing Lily away and misreading her feelings, as he did with Rob.
Something seems to shift in Rob as she hears this, and after a longish, studiously composed pause, she spills the beans: their breakup “wasn’t your fault, Mac. I slept with someone else.” We see in a perfectly edited three-second flashback what happened, the night they got engaged. The night they got engaged. What an incredible mindfuck!
Rob, finally unburdened, really would like to talk it out, but Mac can’t sit and process with her. It was selfish and terrible enough for Rob to cheat on him, but it’s worse still to now confess it, an indulgence of her guilty conscience, not a step towards making amends to Mac.
He’d thought that Rob had fallen out of love with him, and had wracked his brain to understand how he’d messed up but all the time, Rob’s withdrawal and odd behavior was her feeling crushed by guilt & shame. Mac stalks off and Rob collapses in a sobbing heap.
This scene is deeply affecting, and draws back the curtain on Rob’s entire “why am I doomed to be left?” project. The reasons for her previous breakups have been: 7th grade; he was gay, they’re best friends now; she’s a bloviating monster who doesn’t know what real human connection is; she dumped him; she cheated, then couldn’t process her guilt appropriately, then pushed him away. Rob is not not doomed to be left, she’s a pretty garden variety mess of a person with a very standard spotty relationship track record, who now has to face the consequences of what she’s done.
Throughout this episode, Rob has been talking to us from her front stoop, chugging her birthday champagne, getting progressively drunker, and I want to say that of all the very fine, high-quality acting Zoë Kravitz has done throughout the season, giving us shades of misery, delight, love, indecision, silliness, and mopiness, I think her drunk acting might be the most subtle and precise work she’s done overall. It’s so easy to overdo drunk acting, and whatever technique she’s using is making her seem actually drunk. It’s pretty remarkable!
In the end, on the stoop, locked out of her building and waiting for Mac to let her in with the key he somehow still has, Rob is close to where she was at the start of this episode: messy and regretful, but her spiky insistence on everything being fine is gone. The final shot sets up the quietest cliffhanger: Rob at the top of the stairs, Mac at the bottom, the key between them and neither of them sure what door it’ll open this time.
1) Song of the episode: “Nikes” by Frank Ocean, a perfect song for strolling home at the end of the night
2) Rob’s headphones are old-timey over-the ear with little foam covers headphones, not earbuds.