Scenes From a Marriage episode 3 recap – “The Vale of Tears”

September 27, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 2
HBO, Weekly TV
2

Summary

“The Vale of Tears” picks up a year after the previous episode, but very little seems to have changed between Jonathan and Mira.

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2

Summary

“The Vale of Tears” picks up a year after the previous episode, but very little seems to have changed between Jonathan and Mira.

This recap of Scenes From a Marriage episode 3, “The Vale of Tears”, contains spoilers.


Ugh. After last week’s gratingly forced hour of revelations, most of them concerning how Jessica Chastain’s Mira had been secretly shacking up with an Israeli start-up CEO and was moving to Tel Aviv with him the next morning, part of me hoped I’d never have to see these two in the same room ever again. Alas, there were three episodes left then, and there are two left now, and it’s impossible to know where the whole thing is going not because it’s a dynamic and unpredictable drama but because the show isn’t able to keep up with what we’re told is a separation. A year has ostensibly passed between “Poli” and “The Vale of Tears”, but it’s up to us to measure that time in subtle changes around the house, in the little ways our characters speak and behave. It feels, in truth, like scarcely a week has passed. I’m forced to measure the show in real-time since all the efforts to highlight what a difference twelve whole months can make are as stagey as the silly behind-the-scenes framing device the show is so obviously self-satisfied about. If you can’t tell, this week’s episode irritated me just as much as the others have.

Scenes From a Marriage episode 3 recap

For a while, I honestly thought it wouldn’t. A year can make all the difference. Jonathan seemed in a better place; less angry, less self-involved. Even Mira seemed a bit uncharacteristically sensitive to the whole situation, despite tearing Jonathan’s redecorating choices to pieces. The hug they shared in the hallway was tender, a far cry from the little wrestle they’d had last time. The remains of a seder dinner suggested Jonathan was reconnecting with his faith. Mira keeping her coat on suggested she knew she was a guest now. “Well,” I thought, “they seem to be getting on okay.”

I’m an idiot, obviously. “The Vale of Tears” treats the gradual discovery of new secrets and details like clues in a mystery. Jonathan mentions Ava is “discreet”, by which he means emotionally closed-off. They’re both using his office as a bedroom, a bookshelf functioning like a dividing wall. The upstairs bedrooms are in time-locked disarray as if they haven’t been touched since the night she left. And Jonathan has taken up the habit of smoking again, despite his asthma, which he reveals hasn’t been troubling him in what is obviously a desperate and pathetically transparent lie.

After a bit of toing and froing, Mira gets down to business: She has been offered a big promotion – she mentions the financial incentive multiple times – which would require her to relocate to London. Jonathan rightly and immediately goes on the defensive assuming she’s asking to take Ava with her, and for a second, I thought that despite all the progress he hasn’t made, he was properly and earnestly sick of her nonsense. As it turns out, though, that isn’t what Mira was suggesting. She instead proposes that both he and Mira move to London together, which is a slightly more interesting offer, even if it would mean completely uprooting Ava’s entire life after she has barely gotten used to having two separated parents and two separate homes. Readers, my alarm bells were ringing at this point. I knew she was up to something.

More wine. More jokes and reminiscences. Jonathan’s admission about seeing a therapist, and all the good it’s doing, and the three pages he writes every morning about how he’s feeling, one of which, the most recent, Mira pushes him to read to her aloud. Soon, they’re kissing – initiated by Mira – and then undressing. I did a little fist-pump when Jonathan rejected her, and a bigger one when he did it again, even after she turned the intensity up. Turning down sex with Jessica Chastain, I thought, he really has moved on. But he hasn’t, of course. Pretty soon she’s staying the night, in his bed, and even though it’s mostly platonic when his girlfriend calls Jonathan immediately tells her what’s happening and then dumps her.

That’s balance, in a way. Here I was hating Mira, and I almost forgot to hate Jonathan too! But his immediate willingness to completely self-sabotage – and hurt someone in the process – at the merest inclination of reuniting with Mira is pathetic, and far from the behavior of someone who has evolved as significantly as he claims (which, if we’re being frank, isn’t all that significantly.) And everything is recontextualized – not to mention worsened – by the late revelation that Jonathan received a voicemail from Poli informing him that he and Mira were splitting up.

This makes both look bad. It makes Mira look like she’s come around trying to seduce her husband because her young fancy man has left her, and she’s terrified of being alone. It makes Jonathan look like he knew all this and couldn’t help but go along with it anyway but put on an amateur dramatics’ performance just for the sake of it. It makes both look like weaselly fakes, which of course they are, but the reminder that they are also means that the show isn’t developing along with them. There’s no sense of a gradually escalating narrative or a thematic through-line or that any aspect of either of them isn’t the product of writers and two – excellent, granted – actors. The surface-level context of these episode-long conversations changes, but the conversations themselves never seem to. Perhaps it’s because neither Jonathan nor Mira actually has anything worth saying to each other.

You can catch Scenes From a Marriage episode 3 on HBO.

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2 thoughts on “Scenes From a Marriage episode 3 recap – “The Vale of Tears”

  • September 28, 2021 at 4:53 pm
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    … we only learn about Poli’s voicemail message to Jon at the very end of the episode & it’s key to the entire storyline here
    … knowing what it tells him & the way he then reacts to her says loads about their relationship moving forward from this point

  • November 9, 2021 at 6:37 pm
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    Amazed by this. I thought episode 3 was one of the most engrossing pieces of drama I have ever seen. The previous two episodes are obviously essential for the contextual tension and perhaps the fact that I was watching in a binge was a factor. I really really believe that Jessica chastain’s performance in this episode was the remarkable I have seen. Perhaps because I am a classically trained actor I appreciated it in a particular way.

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