Moving on Is Fraught With Emotional Minefields in the Final Season of ‘Divorce’

As we get older moving on from a relationship gets trickier, especially if we’re talking something that was long term and left much lingering, unfinished business. The third and final season of HBO’s “Divorce” understands this all too well. It’s the shortest season yet at only six episodes, but that’s enough to bring a new mood to the tale of Robert (Thomas Haden Church) and Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker), who have no legal ties but definitely emotional ones. But they are attempting to move on, discovering that maybe new relationships don’t always fill the void.

It’s a post-divorce situation now and Robert is having a major life development with fiancé Jackie (Becki Newton), who is pregnant. With wedding plans underway and Jackie getting into OCD mode over every detail, Robert appears to be starting anew. Meanwhile Frances is now living in New York City and seeing Henry (James Lesure), a small-scale entrepreneur who forgets to tell her his own divorce isn’t finalized. For work Frances joins an urban birding group, which features a colorful staff. Robert himself is helping coach his daughter’s high school basketball team, which entails not getting along with the other coach, Jeremy (Dominic Fumusa). Remember Nick (Tracy Letts)? He’s in jail now for his Ponzi schemes. This means Diane (Molly Shannon) has to get a real job. She finds one in retail, but making sure the clothes are displayed properly proves to be a real hassle. Over at her therapy practice Dallas (Talia Balsam) is so done with it all her patients start to notice and sue.

Liz Tuccillo, a longtime industry name who has written for shows like “Sex and the City,” takes over as showrunner this season, guiding the narrative into new territory. No longer is the emotional bloodbath of the divorce itself the focus, but how Robert and Frances operate in their new social reality. Thomas Haden Church was keen to discuss this when he recently sat down with Entertainment Voice. “The tonality of the first and second season was so distinctive, the third season we wanted to have everything cast in a different spotlight of what this family could be moving forward after so much that was divisive,” said Church. “Robert is still a very traditional guy. Even though I’m in my 50s, and Jackie is quite a bit younger, this is what you do, you get married, you follow through. It might not be totally the direction he should be going, there might be some misgivings about who they are together, but he sort of buries it.” 

This goes to the heart of season three, which is about everyone attempting to find their new balance. Even the kids are going through transitional phases. Tom (Charlie Kilgore) is hesitant to go to college, telling Frances that Jackie didn’t need it and makes good money. This of course creates deep friction between Frances and Robert’s fiancé. Lila (Sterling Jerins), who is a bit underwritten this season, would probably prefer to survive high school without her parents making scenes in public. But the stars are the adults, who feel as if they are in these new relationships for the sake of avoiding complete loneliness. Jackie has to remind Robert that she’s never been married, much less been engaged to a man with an ex, so for her having a perfect wedding is a big deal. She also begins to suspect Robert is not completely emotionally detached from Frances. A tense dinner scene where the four sit together exposes passive aggressive impulses and covert feelings. When Robert nonchalantly reveals that Jeremy asked him for permission to ask Frances out, Frances is surprised at how a jealous Henry tells her she can do whatever she wants. Was that his intention? “It starts to emerge in a variety of ways that he’s a little too concerned about what’s going on in Frances’s life, and not being attentive enough to elements in his relationship,” said Church. Robert even finds himself defending Frances from the cutting taunts of his obnoxious sister Cathy (played with acidic fury by Amy Sedaris). 

“Divorce” has always been more drama than pure comedy, but this season has an even greater seriousness. There is still much hilarity, especially in an episode where Frances and Robert go on a field trip with the girls’ basketball team, resulting in teen debauchery and Robert being propositioned by the front desk clerk. But even storylines such as Diane attracting an 80-year-old man who offers to essentially be her sugar daddy are less about the laughs than about characters facing challenging decisions. As with season two, Church was more heavily involved as a producer. “The real stamp of approval, which was really cool for me, was that they gave me a producing credit in the second season, and I’ll have it again this season. It’s essentially saying ‘hey man, we’re acknowledging you’re doing a lot more than just showing up and saying your lines.” 

What truly continues to carry the show is the very organic bond onscreen between Church and Sarah Jessica Parker, who still play these characters without pretensions of melodrama. There are no cheesy or stolen kisses, no dramatic monologues about love. They deal with it all like real adults. When Frances opens up to Henry about what their relationship means the dialogue is sparse and honest. Robert’s funniest lines are muttered under his breath when walking by Jeremy or when lecturing a team members’ boyfriend for trying to sneak into her hotel room. But it feels like this could be happening somewhere right now. Yet there is a special, sentimental charm in how Frances and Robert have grown. In a sense they are left on equal footing, both trying to figure out if these new partners are what they need. “While the characters clearly evolved thankfully I had just as much fun with Jessica shooting the pilot as on the last day of the 24th episode. I just enjoy her company. I adore her and everything she stands for. She’s a fiercely independent and proud professional, mother, wife, member of a family. She loves her brothers and sisters, parents. She’s so dedicated to everything that it’s just honorable,” said Church about his co-star. “She wants to represent everything that is hopeful and uplifting.”

The season does close on a note that avoids dreariness. Tough decisions are made by the characters concerning their new relationships, but with an open-ended spirit. There’s no finality because life itself keeps going. Frances’s new co-workers are slightly offbeat, like the woman in the office who can’t stand dripping food, but she sees potential. Diane realizes being kept by a rich old guy has its perks, like her own lavish apartment and some privacy, and it’s hard for us to judge her. We love and lose, then we try again. 

Divorce” season three premieres July 1 and airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.