Abby's second encounter with a younger man has her stepping up, while Lyla is just about one step from the edge.

By Jodi Walker
December 31, 2014 at 04:00 AM EST
Sergei Bachlakov/Bravo
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When Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce premiered, the main character wasn’t Abby, or her future ex-husband, Jake, or her girlfriends—the main character was divorce. This was a pretty novel idea, and it was a bold one coming from Bravo, the land of Pinot Grigio and broken marriages. However, by the third episode, that theme was beginning to seem a little daunting. Divorce is tough stuff. Was this going to be the show’s focus forever?

But somewhere around the last episode, Girlfriend’s Guide stopped being about divorce and started zeroing in on the titular girlfriends. Now we’re not just talking about divorce: We’re talking about women who happen to be going through divorces, or, in Phoebe’s case, a woman who has come out on the other side of divorce and still doesn’t really seem to know herself. In fact, if tonight’s episode has a theme other than pretending that characters have wildly different ages from those of the actors playing them, it’s that everyone is trying to know or get to know people they should technically already know, like themselves or Bernadette Peters’ character.

In a wildly perfect twist, Peters stepped into the role of Lyla’s mother tonight. As with Janeane Garofalo’s portrayal of Lyla, she clicks so instantly that I’m prematurely devastated about the possibility of losing her. In contrast, the extra time spent with Phoebe made me quite certain I would be fine with Phoebe living permanently in that well-lit coffee shop, appearing in the occasional school lobby scene in a crop top and prairie skirt. It’s not that Phoebe doesn’t serve a purpose; she does. She’s a counterpoint to Abby’s protagonist pragmatism and Lyla’s magnetic fury, and that purpose is served through occasional bathroom fights, reconciliations in coffee shops, and evening gowns made entirely out of hosiery. Tonight, her time spent with Mr. and Mrs. Euro felt a little like time wasted, to me, and most likely will feel that way to them when they find their necklace on the nightstand… Should have gone to Jared, I guess.

The episode kicks off with Abby running into the market, on her way to take Lilly and Charlie to school, and bumping into Will, her one-night stand from the pilot. Throughout the episode, we will be led to believe that Will is 28 years old, which is far too young for Abby. As Warren Christie, the actor who plays Will, is coming up on 40 in a year’s time, and Lisa Edelstein looks like she could have played the cool mom in Mean Girls, you will never believe their age gap is as insurmountable as Abby and all of her nuclear family imply. At various points, Will is likened to Lilly, who is played by an age-appropriate 16-year-old, and Becca, who is played by a relatively age-appropriate 27-year-old. It feels ridiculous every time, since that man is a very handsome, very charming 39-year-old. But if dating a pretend 28-year-old is what it takes for Abby to let loose a little and realize that this divorce is affecting her in ways she didn’t even realize, then I guess she should go for it.

And she does. After Will finds Abby in that market and insists she at least take his number, she calls. He takes her to a club that she thinks is way too hip for her; she’s actually just way too sane for it. There, Will is spotted by his crazy ex-girlfriend—women are, like, so crazy, amiright?—who repeatedly screams that Abby is a slut and throws a drink at her. Rather than get angry with Will, because Abby is not crazy (“Enough with the slut, that’s a terrible word”), she’s invigorated by the way she’s standing up for herself: “Was I steppin’ to her?!” You sure were, Abs.

But the result—an adrenaline-rush makeout with her younger fella—doesn’t last long. A quick break for breath reveals that Abby isn’t the only McCarthy in the joint. Lilly, who is supposed to be with her father in his super-cool bachelor pad, is instead at the same club frequented by fake 28-year-olds, making out with an “older guy” who looks about 14.

You see, Jake is also feeling the pressure of being a newly single parent. His kids aren’t too happy with him and don’t feel like having lots of deep chats in between Austin & Ally commercials. So, earlier in the episode, Lilly fakes like she’s going to bed and then sneaks out. When Jake discovers that, he does everything to find her except call her mother, even though his girlfriend Becca, still the sanest person on this show, insists that he should.

Later, when Abby drives Lilly back to Jake’s, she’s livid that he didn’t tell her. Rather than apologize, he says that she’s been making parenting a contest and starts talking smack about how young Will, her fellow passenger, looks. This is pretty rich, considering Becca—who plays a teenager on TV—is standing behind him, judging his immaturity. But no one is more hurt than Lilly, who overhears this entire petty argument between her parents and their various millennial guests, and screams, “How come I’m the only one acting my age? You make me sick!” Dramatic? Sure, but no more so than her parents, who are, in fact, not 15-year-olds.

NEXT: Lyla’s having mommy issues…

But a little bit of teenage drama is fixable. Losing your kids entirely is not, and that’s the reality Lyla is facing if the caseworker who’s coming to her house doesn’t have a good visit. Her supermom (Peters) is coming to help. Although Lyla has asked her to help prepare a simple dinner, she arrives home to find that her mom has turned the kitchen into a miniature Japan, made sushi and tempura, and is dressed in a traditional kimono. This doesn’t seem to go over well with the caseworker, who is of Asian descent, happens to have Celiac disease, and is allergic to everything Lyla is serving. She tells them to relax, like it’s any other night, but telling Lyla to relax is kind of like telling sushi not to have gluten in it.

The boys get overwhelmed trying to pretend that themed dinners are a normal occurrence for them (the eccentricities of Lyla’s eldest son make up one of my favorite recurring notes). The dinner ends with the boys running to their room, the unimpressed caseworker leaving, and Lyla and her mother having a big blowup. Well, Lyla blows up. Her mother just takes it because, as Lyla says, she’s perfect. She’s a perfect mother who has done everything right for Lyla and does everything better than Lyla. All that perfection makes Lyla feel like she doesn’t really even know her mother—she just wants to know who her mother is.

So, her mother fills her in. The last time she cried was three months ago, when Lyla’s grandfather died; she was waiting for the right time to tell Lyla her grandfather died, and this isn’t that moment. She was also addicted to pain medicine for five years and dabbled in petty theft. The truth brings about a brief moment when two very different women understand each other as mothers, but Lyla can’t hold on to it for long. With parting advice that it’s a mother’s job to protect her children, Lyla’s own mother lets her be alone.

Phoebe is the opposite of alone. She’s still hot and heavy with her married couple, but the relationship is so much more than sex. They’re ready to come out as, I guess, participating in a polyamorous relationship. They keep saying “coming out,” but by the end of the episode, Phoebe is shocked to hear them say that they’re both in love with her and ready to take their commitment to the level of moving in together. What did she think was going on? What was all this business of coming out to her friends for if not to further her commitment to this polyamorous relationship? I understand if she’s not ready to blend their families after a few weeks, but was she not thinking about the future or the major life change at all? Was it just so she could kiss two attractive people in public without people thinking she was the other woman? At least, as the other woman, she wouldn’t have been scamming them both.

It’s not fair to come down harder on Phoebe for her mistakes, which are no worse than Abby’s, Lyla’s, or Jake’s. The main problem with Phoebe is that the writers don’t give her actions the same weight they give to the other main characters. Because she’s a free spirit, she seems like she doesn’t really care about anything. This makes it hard to care about her, whereas the other two Girlfriends have emotional depths within this world. Lyla might really lose her kids, her job, or both. Abby’s career needs a miracle that she’s not prepared to create herself, and she and Jake are headed toward a breakdown; they make mistakes, and those mistakes have consequences. The main results of Phoebe’s mistakes seem to be breathy laughter and gifts of jewelry. It just doesn’t match up.

But for every bit that one character isn’t working, two characters are, and Abby and Lyla are serving midlife crisis realness: not the kind of crisis that makes you buy a car like Jake’s or hire your ex-wife as a kept woman, but the kind of crisis that you have to get past or let swallow you whole. Tonight’s little glimpse of hope about Abby and Lyla trying to be the women they think they can be felt uplifting in the most challenging of ways. At a certain point, you don’t find yourself through experimenting or pretending you’re cooler than you are. You just carry your heels in your hand, dig the good cookies out of the trash, and get through it.

And if Abby’s understanding words to her daughter—”You have every right to be mad at us… we suck right now”—and parting words for the new-mommy author who’s throwing shade at her on the talk shows are any evidence, she’s finally ready to start getting to know the new Abby: “I think that bitch just stepped to me.” She did. Your move, Abs.

Episode Recaps

Bravo’s first scripted drama follows the life of a self-help guru (Lisa Edelstein) post-divorce.
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