Divorce: “Mediation” Season 1 Episode 4 Review

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Robert has a downward spiral, and things start to get really interesting.

They say to keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer. I wouldn’t exactly call Robert and Frances enemies, per se, but they certainly are at odds with each other. “Mediation” sees the two of them being agreeable, for the most part, which makes the ending scene of Robert deciding to get a lawyer hit twice as hard. He’s clearly been holding a lot in, and he’s ready to play dirty.

I like this change of pace so much, because it not only spices things up for the series moving forward, but it comes about in such an organic, believable way. Of course Robert and Frances would try to work things out with a mediator at first, and be as civil as possible. Yet, there’s still the fact that Frances cheated on her husband. It’s something that Robert clearly isn’t over, as indicated by a wonderfully hilarious scene in which Frances discovers that he’s been leaving voicemails on Julian’s phone, and sending him pictures of a baguette with a knife in it.

On top of this, as Robert is forced to go through his finances this week, he discovers that he’s in pretty bad shape when it comes to money. Add all this to the fact that he’s living in one of his empty properties, and he and Frances are still been tip-toeing around the divorce in front of their children, and it’s enough to make anyone go crazy, which is exactly what Robert does.

Watching a man hit rock bottom and then spiral out of control could be dour on any other show, but here it’s a blast to watch because Thomas Haden Church is totally mesmerizing. The way he’s able to convey Robert’s absolute desperation as he tries to start up construction on a “Fun Zone” for kids, while simultaneously being the show’s greatest source of humor is incredible. His scene with Tracy Letts and Molly Shannon as he tries to get them to be investors is one of the episode’s highlights.

What’s so good about Church’s performances is that it reinforces the idea that there isn’t really a good guy and a bad guy in this divorce. Yes, Frances cheated and yes, Robert going to a divorce lawyer behind her back was a low blow, but neither of them is truly evil. They’re both just trying to save themselves from a sinking ship, and sometimes it’s hard to do that with civility.

That being said, it is interesting to watch Sarah Jessica Parker play a characters with very few redeemable qualities. Yes, Carrie Bradshaw made some mistakes and had some selfish moments, but overall she was the spunky, glamorous New Yorker we could all love and relate to. Frances is bitter and selfish, and yes she’s trying to do right by her family, but it’s been hard for her to own up to her mistakes so far. Her scene in the conference room at her office with her  co-worker Ryan is a great example of this, and Parker does a great job of both showing her exasperation at the mess Frances’ life has become, and being totally oblivious to the world around her. Her line about Robert’s mustache being constantly damp was a nice touch as well.

The two best scenes of the episode, however, occur during Robert and Frances’ attempts to tell the children they’re splitting up. The first goes horribly, because Robert is so distracted by his financial losses that he’s only able to focus on the high menu prices at the restaurant and their plan-of-action gets thrown out the window. Parker is an excellent straightwoman against Church’s goofiness as she tries to steer the conversation back to the topic of their divorce and it blows up in her face.

The second attempt is more successful, because Robert has decided he doesn’t need anyone else for his Fun Zone idea and he’s going to go it alone. His empowerment is a nice change for his character, who’s been put through the wringer since the pilot and is now finally coming through the other side of processing everything that’s happened to him. This time, he effortlessly takes control of the conversation and is able to eloquently say what needs to be said. Frances even thanks him for stepping in. Again, this is what makes the final scene of him talking to a lawyer all the more poignant. Robert has figured out one of the best keys to winning a battle: put on a good front.

So, it looks like a battle is underway. Judging by the tone of the show so far, I doubt things will get too nasty, at least not in a Real Housewives sort of way. Still, if Robert is lawyer-ing up, then Frances will likely follow suit, and this is when the real ugliness in a divorce can come out. With Church and Parker behind the wheels, however, I think it will be fascinating to watch. Grade: A-


By Mike Papirmeister

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