Scenes from a Marriage
When you marry or attend a wedding, at least in America, the legal dimension to what’s happening is inconspicuous. Marriage is a celebration of the commitment two people can buy from each other with the love between them; the contract is confetti. You put it in a folder somewhere. I’d need a couple of hours to find mine.
But when Jonathan and Mira’s marriage breaks down, the legal contract becomes urgently significant. The vows are already undone; they live in separate homes. This sheet of paper they glanced at every few years is the last knot of their shared life. Marriage starts with rings and passed hors d’oeuvres and ends with a ream of pages, some to be signed and some only initialed — a decade of love erased by a ballpoint pen.
The couple’s divorce seems amicable enough so far. Tonight, Jonathan and Mira are divvying their stuff following the settlement negotiated by their lawyers. There’s no neutral party present to referee; the aggrieved trust themselves alone with each other. Mira starts the episode across the street, as far from the house as we’ve seen her. If the house is the center of gravity for this marriage, it’s telling that showrunner Hagai Levi keeps enlarging her orbit. The journey home is getting longer. Soon, the same route won’t even be a journey home.
When Mira arrives, the packing is finished, and Jon’s on the phone with the movers. Mira is on the phone with Ava, who is screaming about her dolls getting lost. Mira knows her anger is normal because Ava’s therapist told her so. Between Jonathan and Mira, the mood is friendly. He calls Mira his wife; she calls him honey. This is the liminal space Jonathan’s lived in for the two years since Mira left, but he’s determined that they sign the divorce papers tonight before he heads to Europe for lectures. Professionally, he’s hot shit right now.
But Mira’s distracted. Rather than affecting her trademark aloofness, she’s too exhausted to care. She hasn’t read the contract; it doesn’t matter what the house is worth. Take it all, Jonathan. Take whatever. He reminds her that American divorce is comparatively easy. If they were obtaining a Jewish gett, there would be a three-judge panel and performative declarations, the most important of which is this: You are hereby permitted to all men. Vicious, perhaps, but Jonathan sees some “logic” to it. “You’re either in or you’re out, and if you’re out, there’s no going back,” he says.
Mira flirtatiously asks if they could marry again, post-gett, because that’s the kind of thing Mira is wont to ask. Her MO hasn’t changed. They’re sitting beside each other on the plastic-wrapped green settee that they both want. They hug, then they caress, then they fuck, doggy-style. Everyone has fun, but it doesn’t look like love. It looks like sex. Not getting-back-together sex, not good-bye sex. Maybe it’s primal: the last time their bodies will belong to each other. Mira kisses Jonathan tenderly, and they get ready for a quick dinner before the movers arrive. Jonathan washes exclusively his groin with a handheld showerhead. Maybe it’s nothing, or maybe it’s symbolic. Mira giggles as she slides her heels back on. Maybe it’s optimism, or maybe it’s nothing.
Jonathan re-emerges with the divorce papers, and Mira again refuses to sign. The argument grows slippery. It’s about divorce; it’s about the extortionate cost of dance class. It’s about how much Ava hates her mother. Mira thinks we should teach kids that love ends so that divorce can be less painful. Personally, I think she shouldn’t have had an affair so that divorce could be less painful. But that’s the illiteracy the episode title alludes to — we don’t have the language for the end of love’s life cycle. We don’t have norms and rituals to match love’s beginning. But Jonathan is done being philosophical. His pain is his uncertainty. If he’s not going to be married to Mira, he needs to be divorced from her. Just sign the papers, please.
But Mira can’t. She can’t afford to lose more parts of herself. She got fired earlier in the day. “I’m really sorry that happened to you,” Jonathan tells her, but Mira perceives something adversarial in the platitude. The accusation feels uncharitable but, turns out, she knows him a lot better than we do. Jonathan confesses that her sob story evokes nothing in him. He’s not trying to be callous; the callous is just there around his heart now. It’s been accreting so slowly he’s surprised by it. It’s a cold admission, especially so soon after sex, but that too, he says, was devoid of emotion for him. He can live without Mira. No, it’s more than that. He doesn’t want to live with her.
They fight in the manner of all their fights. There’s name-calling and recriminations. Mira mocks Jonathan for going to therapy. He basically tells her she deserves to be fired. She rattles off words he used to find profane — cock, pussy — like a teenager desperate to rile her parents. Jonathan’s religious hang-ups around sex made her feel depraved, she says in a tirade of resentment. She denied her sexuality for fear he’d find it grotesque. His hang-ups became hers, which, if true, is a terrible and unkind reversal.
But Jonathan says it isn’t true, and he’s never left Mira high-and-dry, so I’m inclined to believe him. What if there was never anything that wrong with him? What if some women don’t care if you wash your balls after sex? Mira made Jonathan feel aberrant and exploited his inexperience. They don’t dispute the facts, but their meanings. They’re talking about sex, but their incompatibilities lurk around every corner of the house. Now, they’re in the kitchen, Mira pretending that she might sign the divorce settlement. If she’s not going to sign it, Jonathan needs her to say so.
Mira can only whisper an answer. “I want to come home.” MIRA, MIRA, MIRA. She and Poli broke up weeks ago because she refused to have his kid. It’s her turn to play the narcissist, “spewing” her feelings. She knows it would be different this time around, but Jonathan disagrees. Even if it was different for her, he’s not in love anymore. “I’m sober; I’m inoculated. That’s it.” It’s brutal to listen to, even if it’s fair. Mira’s made so many decisions; she’s not sure which ones were mistakes. She wants to press reset. He used to want it, too.
They fill the space between them with pineapple vodka, the most accessible alcohol among the boxes. Jonathan lights a cigarette off the gas stove and opens a window even though it will be someone else’s house tomorrow. He asks Mira to be happy for him and herself. “It could be a really exciting time for you,” he says. But Mira doesn’t want anything new. She’s already sampled it, and look what it got her: a kid that hates her guts, a soulless condo in the sky, unemployment. When she tells him, “all I want is what I used to have,” it sounds like the truth.
Unhappy Ava calls again, and Jonathan, sympathetic, tells Mira they can worry about the divorce settlement another day. The Mira who negotiated the settlement isn’t the fragile person here now. But because they’re the least compatible people on Earth, she suddenly needs to know why it was so important to begin with. He tells her he’s thinking of having a child with his colleague — “elective co-parenting.” He wants more kids more than he wants a wife, and it’s cleaner to enter that arrangement fully divorced. Shockingly, given what we know about Mira via the abortion in episode one and her admission here that she didn’t want to have a child with Poli and that she left her husband two years ago, she asks Jonathan if he considered having the kid with her. She wants a kid! They should have a kid.
But, of course, they should not have a kid. They can barely have a conversation. Mira accuses Jonathan of wanting a child outside a romantic relationship so he can do whatever he feels like, which is egregiously unfair and not founded in anything we’ve seen. Offended, he moves to leave. On second thought, Mira can deal with the movers herself.
What happens next takes seconds or minutes, and no one will ever be able to remember the exact choreography of who did what and how and, worst of all, why. Mira doesn’t want Jonathan to go, for their last night in the house of their marriage to end so loud and aggressive, ugly and scrappy. He tries to push past her, but Mira locks them in the house and hides the key. She just wants to talk. Jonathan moves for the key, and she pushes him and hits him. He shoves back, I think, still searching for it. She returns the shove, and he hits her in the face. Mira throws Jonathan to the ground, and he hits his head on the way down. She throws books at him. She throws anything she can grab at him. They collapse, bloody, more pained than ever.
Wordlessly, they sign the papers on the floor, the Boston cold creeping under the front door. Jonathan prepares to go. “Should’ve done that a long time ago,” he says menacingly. The sentence lacks a subject. They should have signed the papers? They should have hit this ugly, irrevocable low? Or worse, he should have hit her? Should he have let his contempt for her be so manifest in the world that she couldn’t miss it? The words will echo in his mind; she’ll think of them as the bruise across her face starts to yellow. When it fades completely, the words will be what’s left of the violence. Nothing they just did to each other “should’ve” been done. Jonathan leaves as the movers arrive. He’s finally the one to escape the pull of the house.
When they signed it, Jonathan and Mira’s marriage contract was backed by so much love that it hardly needed to exist as an actual object in the world. It was confetti, or it was something at the bottom of a drawer. Now, it’s maybe in one of those cardboard boxes earmarked for a storage unit. It’s an artifact of a past civilization. It’s trash.