‘Scenes of a Marriage’ Season 1, Episode 5 Recap

Scenes from a wedding

In the middle of the night, in a dark house, somewhere in the world

Season 1

Episode 5

Editor’s Note

5 stars

Photo: Jojo Whilden / HBO

Mira and Jonathan will be cradling each other in a twin bed by the end of the hour, compacting themselves into the smallest space two people can occupy. They don’t wear clothes. When they speak, they almost breathe the words. They blew up their lives and sold their house. Now they’re paying an Airbnb rate per night to sleep among the well-landscaped rubble. It is a metaphor that gives their carelessness the patina of romanticism. Jonathan has a second child at home and his first wife in bed. He has less to give Mira, but isn’t that what she ultimately wanted? Jonathan without devotion, without his relentless expectations. The final image of their bodies tangled in the dark poignantly suggests that Mira and Jonathan’s particular love story will never be over. They cannot get out of each other’s life any more than they can leave the house. Let the camera run a few more minutes, and they will put on yesterday’s clothes and leave the house.

What could be less romantic than equivocation?

Jonathan is at the unveiling of his father’s gravestone at the start of the episode, but he can’t stand the deliberately harmless – “loved and loving” engraving. His father was a jerk. He urges his mother to admit that there are advantages to the death of her judging husband, and she pretty much wants Jonathan to be quiet. Oddly enough, he behaves as moralistic as Mira always insisted he could be. At least we stayed together, says his mother. They did not divorce and pretend it was for the sake of their children. Even after 30 days of shloshim mom can land a punch. It occurs to me that Jonathan hasn’t bought any new glasses for four years.

Mira is back in Boston for a business lunch with Poli, who is amazingly handsome. She looks like the median of all the Mira we have encountered. Somewhere between the staid mom button down shirts from episode one and the high boots from the Poli era are this Mira, smiling with her hair in a carefree ponytail hitting the Crazy, stupid, love exacta: the perfect combination of sexy and cute. She also seems more jovial and her responses uncalculated. Poli wants to hang out tonight, but Mira has plans with Ava. He tells her that she doesn’t know what family means or how to be in a relationship, which is a frosty greeting, but she doesn’t bother to stand up for herself. It’s curious to see her give Poli a pass she would never have given Jonathan. Maybe she wasn’t pathologically defensive, just hugely invested in Jonathan’s good opinion of her.

She’s still a liar, however. At nightfall, she drags her family-hostile vintage Benz in a station parking lot. Hair loose, makeup done, Ava at a slumber party. She picks up Jonathan, straight from his mother’s house, one night which is just days before the 17th anniversary of the first time they had sex – an unimpressive step for almost to be passing through. He drives; she calls him “sir”. The dynamic is more flirtatious than romantic, more silly than sensual. He surprises her by parking in front of the old house. They are clearly having an affair, but this gesture looks like love. When he says he rented them out for the night, she doesn’t balk at sentimentality.

I am disproportionately fascinated by Mira in this episode. The way she lingers, arms crossed, in the hall – the tight space where she signed her divorce. She reluctantly scans the rooms as Jonathan walks forward, anticipating the switches. She waits for him to show her how to be in this strange and familiar place where they have come to look for their own ghosts. After all, it was Jonathan’s idea. The office is now a living room. Ava’s room belongs to two brothers. Jonathan and Mira drink, tease and touch. Whatever they do, they are having fun.

For the most part, the conversation goes unattended. Jonathan is sort of a success now, but his mom won’t admit that she’s proud of him. Mira thinks her mother has suspected what has been going on between them for the past few weeks, that she has known it from the moment they didn’t answer the bedroom door when they were supposed to be sitting Shiva. Is it an adventure? A second chance ? Mira says she prefers hotel rooms to houses for these missions: “It’s what it is, it’s not what it isn’t. A cryptic warning shot in his signature style.

When Jonathan questions his love life, she blocks him. She is happy alone. She tells him that she got married, in part, to prove to her own three-time-married mother that she could do it – a nasty and totally non-revealing admission. Jonathan cannot understand, she says, because he needs a “witness” to his life. Negging is Mira’s aposematism, but Jonathan insists he’s not bothered. Maybe he’s secretly pleased with the way his justifications are jumping all over the place. Being single is “refreshing,” she says. She doesn’t have the monogamy gene or anything.

But when they go back to their old room, the situation deteriorates. They can’t get comfortable cosplaying Jonathan and Mira who share a last name. Instead of having sex, Jonathan has the first asthma attack we’ve seen since Mira left him. He puts on his clothes and searches for his inhaler when his new wife calls. HIS. NEW. SPOUSE. Their baby, Ethan, is teething. Jane thinks Jonathan is still with his family. It’s only fair to find out that he’s the one who has something to lose here. Would Mira be so excited if he was more available? She explores the attic, redesigned as a teenage paradise of Polaroids and fairy lights. “That’s what I missed,” Jonathan says when he joins her. “You could have done it yourself,” Mira told her, a hazy reminder not to trust her.

For once, however, it looks like Mira is wrong. Jonathan admits that this is not his first affair. He feels guilty for infidelities, but guilt is not enough to dissuade him. Jonathan didn’t want to marry Jane, but she got pregnant and he wanted the child. Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t like her. This is the first Jewish woman he has dated since college, and there is solace in a set of shared customs. Since Ethan was born, however, they’ve stopped fucking, and oh my God, please listen to you. It’s embarassing.

“What if she finds out for us?” Mira asks clearly. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS HAPPENING, MIRA?

Jonathan is not particularly agitated. He knows something will eventually break them. Perhaps it will be that case; it will perhaps be another solipsistic choice that he will make in the partial hope of getting caught. “I will never love anyone like I loved you,” he said to Mira. It’s a sad, unknowable, yet self-fulfilling notion. What’s disgusting to me is how it intersects with this conversation about integrity within her marriage. The promises he made to Jane were not conditioned on him finding out that his love for her is qualitatively different from other loves he has touched. Maybe Jonathan has always been selfish that way, even when he was married to Mira. The difference wasn’t that he didn’t want to cheat. How easy it is to be moral when our morals align with our preferences.

Mira’s tearful listening to Jonathan diminishes her experiences of love. If even Jonathan has given up on love, how can we expect to find it? Maybe they only love each other because there is no risk in it: what can be worse than what they have already done? She calls the trauma of divorce “never ending” – a loss as deep as death. She wants to sit shiva for that. No one leaves the house; everyone consoles them. The mutual experience of their divorce is more binding than Jonathan’s marriage. Jonathan and Mira caress each other’s faces. They have sex in the attic bedroom, a level of their house that they never unlocked when they owned it. They keep close until a nightmare wakes Jonathan.

Maybe this is real love? Mira invites Jonathan to tell her about her tedious dream, one of the most selfless things a lover can do. She is interested in her secrets again. She’s delighted to pick up all the clues even though, a few years ago, she was fed up with knowing the answers. In the dream, Jonathan, Mira and Ava are stuck in traffic jams when they decide to walk home. As the logic of the dream allows, Ava and Mira push the cars aside, but Jonathan’s hands dissolve into stumps, and he can’t do the same. In his nightmare, he cannot cross his own family’s road. This is the last half-decade of its distilled life.

Mira offers to bring him some water, but Jonathan just wants to stay in bed. Sometimes he is afraid that he has never really loved anyone or that he has been loved. His wife left him, his mother did not comfort him. But Mira loves him, no matter how deranged he is, and he will always love him, no matter how complicated he is. They stand, presumably in sleep. But sleep will eventually lead to the next day, and the next day the house will no longer belong to them. Perhaps the idea that they belong to each other is just as temporary. Jonathan says he’s comfortable with the fact that there are different types of love, but what about different types of love between the same two people? How can he feel for Mira now what he felt before?

We do not find out. Someone calls it “cut,” and Mira and Jonathan become Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac. They put on dresses and go off together, hanging on to each other like old friends or people who know they’ve done something amazing, or, maybe, like two people playing Jessica and Oscar. . These gritty glimpses of the Cinema Truth plagued me all season, but in this particular episode, I hated it. What Chastain and Isaac created was claustrophobic, demanding, horrible, and hot. The IRL coda came out of the bath when I really wanted it to cool down gradually over the next hour. I wanted to soak up the same liminal space that Jonathan found so deeply painful and ultimately overwhelming, to convince myself that it’s possible that true love can be so damaging and discontinuous. I wanted to find myself shivering.

Instead, I end up with Poli and Jonathan’s mother beards ringing in my head. Maybe Mira doesn’t know love. Maybe Jonathan has only himself in mind. And Jeanne? What about Ava? What does it matter, and what was it for?

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