Divorce: “Christmas” Season 1 Episode 6 Review

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Divorce turns its focus on the holidays for what is easily the best episode of the season so far.

Divorce is getting its ducks in a row for the lengthy, expensive battle that Frances and Robert are about to endure. Last week, we saw both of them lawyer up impressively, so it’s only a matter of time before they start butting heads in court.

Before this happens, however, we’re treated to the especially lovely “Christmas,” which takes a brief reprieve from the separation proceedings and gives us a glimpse of something a little more heartwarming.

The importance of this episode lies within its ability to show us Robert and Frances getting along amicably. Sure, there are some light jabs thrown from either side of them, but there’s an overall sense of a truce between them while they spend Christmas together with Frances’ parents. Seeing these two on good terms only adds to Divorce‘s authenticity. These things are almost never black and white, and it’s nice to see proof of the love that they once had for each other.

The holiday setting for the episode also works well as a plot device for Robert and Frances making their divorce public to their friends and family. Robert gets along great with both of her parents—the perfectly cast Robert Forster and Dorothy Lyman—and when he says how much he loves them, it feels genuine. When the news finally comes out via a hilarious holiday party sequence, he falls on the sword and tells them he was the one who had an affair.

It’s a smart choice that I think works to both make Robert an even more likable character, as well as highlighting how complicated divorce can be. It’s not always bickering and lawyers and custody fights. These people got married and started a family because they loved each other, and that love will still be there at a certain level. The brief scene in which Frances asks Robert why he did that and he responds with “Merry Christmas” says it all. The love will always be there, even if there isn’t enough of it to save this marriage.

The funny thing about “Christmas” is that it points to new possibilities for the series going forward. Frances’ mother casually implies that either she or her husband had an affair at one point and their marriage still remained intact. Later, her father makes an off-the-cuff comment to Robert that “a lot can happen in a year.” Given the series’ title, I have to believe that there’s only one end result in sight. Still, the road to get there could be rockier than anticipated, with several speed bumps and turns in the other direction.

On the other hand, the holiday trip with Frances’ family could have just been a bubble that shielded them from the harsh realities of the world. The ending scene even serves as a wakeup call to both Robert and Frances, as their nice vacation is punctuated with their son inadvertently finding out about his mother’s affair. The more I think about it, the less this episode feels like a wrench in this couple’s separation, and the more it feels like a temporary escape from the madness. For that, it should be celebrated. Whatever happens to Robert and Frances down the line, they’ll always have “Christmas.” Grade: A

 

Some Other Notes:

  • Frances and Robert’s mostly enjoyable holiday is juxtaposed against several uncomfortable dinners with the rest of the cast. Diane passive aggressively bickers with Nick’s first wife. Dallas spends a deeply awkward evening chaperoning her son and his new handsy girlfriend. And, best of all, Julian gets punched in the crotch by another jilted husband whose wife he slept with. All of the subplots were great, and another reminder that there’s no blueprint for a happy relationship. The irony of Robert and Frances being the happiest couple of the crew is palpable.
  • Robert’s glee at the Christmas service, and getting to hug the other churchgoers is so fantastic, and Thomas Haden Church delivers once again on infectious optimism.
  • Frances’ parents initially avoid talking about their daughter’s split from her husband when it’s first brought up, indicating that Frances’ tendency to withdrawal from Robert could be hereditary.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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