It’s been 20 years since Sex And The City entered our lives. With the debut of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), we were introduced to the world of ridiculous, allegedly high-fashion outfits and the trailing phrase “I couldn’t help but wonder...” and something else that would stand the test of time: the quintessential SJP character. Since 1998, we’ve watched Parker drown in the pressures of modern femininity, all the while desperately trying to come up for air. That’s why Hollywood crafted the most literal version of that dilemma, 2011’s I Don't Know How She Does It, around the Emmy winner.
Now, seven years later, Parker stars in HBO's Divorce, which debuted its second season on Sunday night. In the season 2 premiere, “Night Moves,” we see her latest character, Frances Dufresne, in the throws of those classic SJP character problems as she finalizes her titular divorce from former spouse Robert (Thomas Haden Church). And, with that tough ending comes the evolution we’ve always needed from Parker.
Throughout “Moves,” we watch Frances struggle with the knowledge she should be happy with her new, single life — she did spend all of season 1 working towards a divorce — and the harsh reality of that new, single life. Instead of sleeping like a baby in a bed all to herself, Frances is gripped by insomnia. That nagging problem leaves her puttering around the house in the wee hours of the night, desperately rearranging furniture and jerkily practicing sit-up routines out of exercise books. Although these scenes have a hint of physical comedy to them, no one is supposed to be laughing. Rather, we all know we're watching a woman who technically has everything she’s supposed to want out of life, including freedom from a husband she cheated on, realize she’s still deeply unhappy.
After all, happy people don’t lie in their beds, wide awake at 3 a.m.
In a sad twist, a last-ditch effort to create happiness is what finally breaks Frances. After nights of insomnia, the mom of two finds out her daughter Lila (Sterling Jerins) would rather live with her dad than with her own mom. To add insult to injury, Frances still resides in the Dufresne household, while Robert lives in a fixer-upper that doesn’t even have walls or a working bathroom. Frances might literally have it all, but Robert is still somehow the more appealing choice.
“I’m the one who makes her eat generic cereal so I can support us,” Frances rages to Robert. “And you’re the good guy, you’re the fun one, you’re the, you know, crazy dad who takes us to Applebees and lives in an open-air tree house!” Being a modern mom is hard, since the people around you either rarely offer up any credit or have outright contempt for your sacrifices.
In an attempt to be the “fun one,” Frances buys a trampoline, incorrectly assuming her tween-to-teenage children will love it. But, Lila and her brother Tom (Charlie Kilgore) are far from impressed, since they’re about a decade past the age where trampolining with your mom seems cool. Lila and Tom’s disdain for their mom’s extravagant present leaves Frances devastated and sobbing on the recreational device. The pressures she’s been battling — from a strained relationship with her kids and a failed marriage to a passion-project art gallery kept afloat by a friend’s “loan” — land their final blow.
Yet, Parker is finally allowed to give all of those stressors the metaphorical middle finger. Instead of remaining crying on some slightly-used trampoline, Frances gets up, throws some cold water on her face, and wipes away her tears. Now, she’s going to take control of her life in the small ways she can. So, the next time we see Frances, she’s in coveralls attempting to paint a section of her house. It’s a small step forward, but it clearly means a lot to her. The best part of this mini rebirth arrives when Frances realizes Robert returned one of her newly-rearranged pieces of furniture to its original spot. “Motherfucker,” she says with just the right amount of ice in her voice, picking up the heavy draw and returning it to the precise place she had put it.
After all of these highs and lows, it’s encouraging to see Frances pop a bottle of Champagne, chug a little bit right out of the bottle, and saunter past the tear-inducing trampoline. After the many panics of “Night Moves,” Frances Dufresne is actually ready to live her own life.
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