Welcome to the Mia episode! It has been a long time coming, but we’re finally here. Jessica Williams has been a bright spot in what’s already shaping up to be a stellar season, so it’s wonderful to see her shine on her own. Mia exerts this gravitational pull that Marcus has caught himself in (not that he wouldn’t want to be in her orbit), in part because she appears to be carefree and secure in herself, but also because she’s somewhat elusive. We’ve been given some crumbs — mostly that she’s had a fair number of boyfriends, who have never stayed long enough to make a lasting impression — but for the most part, we don’t know much about who she is outside of her interactions with Marcus.
There was a moment in “Becca Evans, Part II” that was actually pretty telling. After Mia vents to Marcus about her string of unsuccessful relationships, he suggests dating someone like her. “And actually maybe have it work out for once?” she counters. “Hard pass.” Why would Mia be so opposed to happiness? As the title “Suzanné Hayward and Leon Hines” suggests, much of that is down to her parents and how their messy separation influenced her perception of love. More than two decades later, she’s still skeptical of men, Marcus included.
Since she was a child, Mia has been held responsible by her mother, Suzanné, for emotional support, as Leon is a nonpresence in their lives, and for everyday support, too, right down to keeping up with Suzanné’s finances from the ripe age of 10. (“Her philosophy has always been ‘I should be making more’, not ‘I should be spending less,’” Mia later tells Marcus.) It doesn’t help that her fast-food-empire-owner dad won’t help them out, no matter how badly Suzanné is floundering. It gets so bad that she ends up losing the house, and so Mia comes back to Maryland for one last visit, emptying her childhood home before it’s gone forever.
The loss of her house stings even more when she discovers her parents flirting in the kitchen. Leon has the financial capability to save it, he just chooses not to. Leon and Suzanné’s being in an on-and-off relationship only adds more salt to the wound. Williams’s performance truly stands out in the aftermath, as she clears her family’s belongings — her whole childhood — from the garage. Her face wrinkles in disgust when Leon texts her baby photos, then her discomfort morphs into anger, which she takes out on the mess she’s cleaning. Finally, anger gives way to tears. The camera pulls back to make her appear so small within the darkness of the garage. It’s moments like these that make me feel slightly irritated by the voice-over that, for some reason, needs to explain in excruciating detail all of the character’s thoughts. (“For the past 23 years, Mia had dutifully supported and coddled her eccentric mother, and their united front against Leon remained intact. But now her mother had caved, and Mia couldn’t help but feel betrayed.”) Williams’s subtle performance does so much to convey Mia’s interiority that it’s a shame it has to be undercut by a narrator holding the viewer’s hand every step of the way.
With Suzanné and Leon back together for now, the latter tries to make amends over dinner, but he doesn’t grasp the extent of the damage his absence has inflicted on her. All the nice things he has done for her that he can list involve money — booking piano lessons, buying her prom dress or textbooks — as if love were nothing but a transaction. He might have been there in his limited capacity, but he was never there for her. “Every visit from you felt mandatory,” Mia says. “Every single nice thing you did felt like it was on some checklist of things you could do to not be considered the absolute worst dad.” He promises to be better, and it looks like Mia is hopeful by the end, but he shatters it again by not showing up for a simple errand the next day. Leon will never be the father Mia needed him to be.
Which brings us back to Marcus. As that omniscient voice-over explains, Mia’s mother had taught her that “men were not only unreliable but superfluous,” and this advice has carried over to her failed relationships and general mistrust of men. But Marcus is the exception. For the past six months, he has been an eerily perfect boyfriend — attentive and genuinely caring. Marcus even offers to come down and help Mia with the house cleanup, but instead she ventures out on her own. Throughout this episode, Mia keeps pushing Marcus away, culminating in her cheating on him with a TaskRabbit guy and breaking it off with him completely. It seems like Mia fears abandonment so much that she rejects commitment, and it shows in how quickly she begs Marcus not to propose at her birthday party. Marcus just wants to take the next small step of moving in together, but all Mia can see in front of her is a terrifying future.
And so, that marks the end (?) for Marcus and Mia. I will say I’m a little disappointed that we got all this buildup only to have it cruelly snatched away. But this was such an excellent Mia episode that I think — and hope — this won’t be the last we’ll be seeing of her.
• Love Life may have the most accurate depictions of iPhone interfaces, but Marcus’s face was looking suspiciously hi-def in the video call.
• Was I hearing things, or did Suzanné call Leon “daddy”? Right in front of Mia’s salad???
• Anna Kendrick makes her second cameo of the season at Mia’s birthday. I find it hard to believe that Mia and Darby are more than just casual work acquaintances, I’ll say it! Also, I know quite a few people just skipped the Kendrick season and went straight to here, so I feel like the Easter-egg (can they be called that?) references to Magnus are not hitting the way they’re intended to.
• I love the little detail of Leon and Mia’s food choices at the restaurant (burger and fries and a salad, respectively) as the latter recounts the time he took her to McDonald’s and wouldn’t give her food. Even in adulthood, Mia is still being deprived of a good burger.