The message Frances has been dreading has arrived: an email from Melissa, the entire body of which is just the line “can we talk?” Frances consents to have this conversation on Melissa’s home turf, which is brave and possibly stupid, and dresses in her version of protective armor (a black turtleneck). They muscle through some small talk before Melissa asks what I consider to be a very fair question: What exactly is Frances thinking, and what does she want? I love that you can see in Frances’s face how she has given zero thought to these questions and did not prepare for this summit except in some presumably self-flagellating way (staring at herself in the bathroom mirror and thinking Am I a bad person? over and over again).
Frances says there’s no plan, which aligns with Nick’s version of events, but Melissa says she wanted to hear it from Frances. “Nick likes to tell people what they want to hear,” Melissa says, and Frances is surprised by this, and I … anticipate that Frances will be surprised by a lot of what Melissa has to tell her about the man she certainly knows better than Frances does!
Melissa provides some intel on a recent affair she had while Nick was depressed — with Nick’s best friend. Another surprise for Frances! Melissa says that it surely would have been too “terrifying” for Nick to attempt to have sex with any of her friends. “Him fucking a 21-year-old behind my back has definitely caused some pain.” INCREDIBLE. I’m actually very proud of everyone here, because all the things Melissa says are totally valid and called for — she encouraged their friendship, and they rewarded that kindness with this ongoing infidelity and dishonesty; Melissa was so used to thinking of Nick as “pathetic” she didn’t even think he had this in him — but Frances does not, in fact, just have to sit there and take it, and it’s good to see her push back by demanding to know what Melissa wants to hear.
The difference here is that Frances has not thought beyond the next 30 seconds of her life, but Melissa has. Melissa says she and Nick are talking and don’t want to leave each other, but she is not asking him to stop seeing Frances either. “He says he loves you. And I don’t know if he still loves me … but he is happier, and presumably you are the cause of that.” Melissa always said that all she wanted was Nick’s happiness, “And now I know that’s true.” Time for the three of them (!) to figure out a way to make it work (!!) over a dinner to which Bobbi is also invited (!!!). How French! It sounds like an absolute shitshow waiting to happen.
That night, Bobbi and Frances debrief over wine. Frances’s version of events is so fuzzy and twisted that Bobbi insists on direct quotes, which Frances provides. Bobbi’s not-incorrect assessment of Melissa’s offer is that it’s “incredibly generous,” and to Frances’s comment that the whole meeting felt “hostile,” Bobbi replies that, well, duh: “You’re sleeping with her husband.” Anytime someone just tells Frances an irrefutable truth — such as she is 21 years old and had sex with Nick behind Melissa’s back — Frances is shattered. Bobbi, of course, consents to getting roped into this chaotic dinner; she’s never wanted to stay out of anything in her life.
Dinnertime! First up, the seating arrangements: Melissa tells everyone where to go, but it’s an inversion of where they all sat the first time they had dinner as a foursome because now Frances is in Melissa’s old seat. Hmmm. Then we get to some scandalous stuff: Nick had sex with one of his college professors when she was 45 and he was 19. Frances just puts a lot of pieces together, simmering in silent discomfort. It’s awful to realize that what feels so particular and special to you is actually a very predictable pattern playing out, and you’re just one of the pieces, as Melissa surely knows and Frances is discovering in real time.
Later, while Nick and Bobbi play video games, Melissa asks Frances about writing. Melissa reveals that her dad died two years ago and that he was an alcoholic. Nick told Melissa about Frances’s dad. Melissa doesn’t make too much of it, but the parallel definitely lands. Frances isn’t happy, but I must say, all things considered, I feel like that went well!
Just as I am wondering if we will ever loop back to Frances’s financial woes (though it’s very Sally Rooney for a character’s money troubles to be resolved through some timely intervention to keep them in the thick of the plot/near the person they want to have sex with/on a nice vacation/etc.) we get Frances checking her bank app and seeing that she’s overdrafted and has all these charges. Her calls to Dad go to voicemail.
Frances has her ultrasound, thank God. Later she and Nick are all snuggly talking about whether he would still find her attractive if she were pregnant. He says maybe even more so. I personally would rather see the scene at Nick and Melissa’s right before he came over here to have sex with his sanctioned mistress so he and Frances could heavy-breathe “I love you” into each other’s open mouths, but oh well.
Back at school, Bobbi catches Frances out for still being broke, but we have more fun things to attend to: Frances, having never written a short story ever in her life, is going to be published in a magazine thanks to Melissa’s agent, and she’s getting paid! That night she and Nick go out to dinner, and when she confesses that the story is about Bobbi (so really more of a personal essay than a short story, not to be a dick about it), he suggests that she, you know, tell Bobbi. Will Frances heed this counsel? Doubtful.
Frances gets a troubling, nearly incoherent voice message from her dad saying something to the effect of “I can’t do this anymore.” Frances calls her mom, who is able to determine that her dad is safe but that Frances shouldn’t call. So it is in this wobbly emotional state that Frances goes out with her university friends, including Bobbi, Phillip, and the new girl Phillip is seeing, Camille, who is summarily hazed via aggressive conversational tactics by Bobbi. The topic of the day, naturally, is monogamy; in a shocking twist, Bobbi thinks monogamy is a tool of the patriarchy and Camille doesn’t think it’s possible to really love more than one person. I do think this is a very intriguing debate to have, but their dorm-room-level takes aren’t breaking new ground.
Bobbi and Frances slip outside, and Frances accuses Bobbi of “punching down,” but she says it with affection. Bobbi is condescending and hilarious re: her assessment of Phillip and Camille (“I think they’ll be very happy together”) but admits she feels like shit because of her parents’ divorce. “You think you’re the kind of person that can deal with something, and then it happens, and you realize you aren’t, actually.” Very into this performance by Sasha Lane. With the question of can you love two people at once swirling through their heads, Frances kisses Bobbi. Like really kisses her. There is also hand holding! Bobbi ends this little tryst by saying they should go back to the party. But the end is really more of a pause, no? Considering we know they have to go home together.