After an underwhelming debut and an atrocious follow up episode, The Slap‘s third chapter, “Anouk,” finally hits the right note.
The Anouk-centric chapter begins right after Hugo was slapped by Harry, and everyone started leaving Hector’s birthday party. On their way out, Anouk and Jamie have a brief encounter with a group of teenaged fans of him who snap a few pics. He handles it with grace, which is actually a good sign, one that might indicate that his character is not as horrible as the rest.
In what, in my opinion, is one of the most relatable and well articulated interactions to have ever take place in the series, Anouk and her beau compare notes on “Nannygate” and both agree that there exists an imminent danger threatening Aisha and Hector’s marriage. Anouk is, alas, unsure if she should say anything to her best friend.
Speaking of the devil, Aisha calls Anouk and announces that the post-slap situation is spinning out of control. The two women meet at a restaurant, where a particularly chipper Rosie joins them. In a very insensitive move, young Hugo’s mother implies her new glow is associated to the case against Harry moving forward. Understandably, Aisha retorts that she cannot celebrate her husband’s cousin’s arrest, which inexplicable, fails to hit a chord, since Rosie replies that their kids need to see that there is justice in the world. In spite of Rosie’s conviction and her will to stand up for what she believes in being admirable, she is being tone-deaf, to say the least.
Unable to keep her mouth shut, Anouk gives Rosie the best advice possible: “let it go.” Then she adds that, while Hugo will heal, she is afraid their friendship will not be capable of mending, if Rosie and Gary keep going after Harry. Rosie is adamant. She does not believe that children who have been physically disciplined ever mend, furthermore, she discredits Anouk’s take on the whole situation, flat out spouting that writing a TV show does not make her qualified. Anouk defends herself better than anyone has in this show. And she is right, the fact that she is not a mother does not make her ill-equipped to have an opinion on the matter. Since it is clear that their girls time is ruined, Anouk leaves to visit the matriarch of her family.
On the way in to her mother’s apartment, Anouk stumbles into a couple pushing a stroller with a baby; her reaction mimics being assaulted. It cannot be made any clearer that kids are not her cup of tea. At the same time, the writing on the wall is starting to get more defined.
Anouk’s mother, Virginia (played by the ever charming Blythe Danner) is a renowned doctor, who as it appears, has a considerable wealth and a particular relationship with her daughter, who she believes to be too sophisticated to be writing for TV. Virginia, to Anouk’s surprise, is using a cane to walk, and also suspects that her daughter is pregnant. Because the elderly woman is still sharp as a knife and does not miss a beat, she advises her daughter not to tell Aisha about Hector’s wandering eye, but to, instead, confront him. At the same time, Virginia expresses her intentions to meet Jamie.
The insightful writer follows her mother’s advice and pays a visit to Hector and Aisha’s house, where she is basically assaulted by the kids. Even though Hector lets her know that Aisha is not at home, she stays. She tells Hector that him and Aisha are the closest thing she’s ever had to family, and that if there is someone who should be having an inappropriate relationship with someone younger, that is her. She then follows that statement with how much she loves Hector and asks him not to make her a liar. The scene is as close to perfect as it’s ever going to get. Both Thurman and Sarsgaard shine.
Later on, Anouk goes to see Jamie’s band perform but she ends up sick in the bathroom. The writing on the wall has now been capitalized. The mismatched couple head to a pharmacy where she sneakily purchases a pregnancy test while Jamie is getting all kinds of junk food to neutralize the effect of the munchies that he is experiencing. Anouk takes a look at her boy toy getting an obscene amount of licorice and gasps. Full disclosure, so did I.
Back at her place, Anouk takes the test to realize what we knew all along: she is pregnant. She then goes to see Jamie, who is eating candy in her living room while watching a cartoon that, in his own (weed-haze driven) words, makes him believe in God. Anouk silently turns around and heads to her room sporting her best “I am doomed” face. She is indeed, expecting a child, fathered by a child.
The next day, Jamie and Anouk enter Virginia’s building, and they meet the same couple that was pushing the stroller before. They tell Anouk that they are moving into the building, while Jamie sweetly interacts with the infant, which Anouk, of course notices. Not a subtle move, but it does somewhat work given that the actors delivery, in spite of the stiff script.
During dinner, things seem to go smoothly. Virginia accidentally (?) spills wine and asks Anouk to finish it, yet she stops pouring. Subsequently, she, again, accuses her daughter of selling out. She praises the time when she wrote theater. Anouk tries to change the subject and brings up the couple with the baby that she has now stumbled into twice. Virginia casually replies that they are moving into her own house and that she is moving to Scotland. Then the two have a few words in private. The heartbreak the situation causes in Anouk is palpable.
The next day, Jamie confronts Anouk on set. He lets her know that he is able to read the neon signs, therefore, he is aware of her state. He also tells her that they should get married and that they can be happy. He even has baby names picked. I have to admit, that scene has the perfect dose of teenage-natured impulse and grown up restraint. Penn Badgley masters the soul of his character.
In spite of Jamie’s endearing words, Anouk reacts defensively. In a cold manner, she tells him she was just killing time with him. She dismisses everything he has articulated and admits that she thinks about breaking up with him ten times a day.
Later that day, Anouk goes to see Aisha at the clinic and asks her for an abortion. Aisha asks if there is a medical reason or otherwise that would explain why Anouk would not have a healthy child or be able to take care of a baby. She then asks if her choice to end the unplanned pregnancy has anything to do with Jamie. Anouk honestly breaks down: she does not know how to be a mom. Then she explains that Virginia is her friend now, but she was never a mother. Further on, she discloses that her dad died while he and Virginia were getting a divorce, and that she found the divorce papers, which stated that her mother didn’t want to have custody. The entirety of the scene is close to perfection.
Aisha advises her friend to think about things less, then confesses she has found out by looking at the computer history that her son, Adam, has a fascination with porn. Just like Anouk told Rosie before, Aisha says letting it go is a good policy.
Anouk decides to visit her mother again, yet she encounters an empty apartment. She takes advantage of it and, remembering Aisha’s words, plus, trusting her gut, she takes a look at Virginia’s search history. Her worst fears are confirmed: her mother has a tumor.
Still very emotional, Anouk rings the bell at Rosie’s house and apologizes for her behavior at their lunch date. In turn, Rosie also admits to being brutal. The two of them show enough love and mutual respect to be honest with each other, to listen, and to be humble. It was a relief to see the type of scene that I have been waiting for since the show started, where adults act like they are well-adjusted. Anouk tells Rosie that she still hopes she and Gary reconsider their actions against Harry, but that she admires the love her friend has towards little Hugo. I think most of the audience, including myself, 100% agrees.
Because she seems to be on a mission, Anouk goes back to her mother’s house and brings her a present. They exchange a few sweet words that once again show the affection between the two women. Their relationship must have not been perfect, or textbook mother-daughter, but there is something that is clear. Anouk and Virginia behave the best they can towards one another, and like in every relationship, feelings are complex and history weighs heavy. However, they are both trying their best to keep their bond alive, through what they say and hide from each other.
It is implied that Anouk knows that Virginia is sick, while on her behalf, the older woman lets out that she is aware of the pregnancy. A hug and some motherly words of wisdom seal the encounter.
Jamie is playing the piano when Anouk goes to see him. She simply sits next to him, and they embrace. She even lets him place his hand on her stomach, and they voice the name ideas he had told her about. The scene is endearing and provides enough closure with a good doze of suspense. What has been said, as much as what lingers in the air, works well narratively.
There is no question about it, this was not only the only one episode of The Slap that I didn’t find irritating, but it was also my favorite episode of the show so far. I have been waiting to write a good review since the show was announced, and the time has finally arrived. I am still unaware as to why this episode was not the second one, like in the Australian version, and I am still not sure that the show can find its way. Regardless, “Anouk” is a good example of the potential that, conceptually, The Slap showed all along.
– Uma Thurman. All her scenes work. If we ever needed a reminder as to why this actress has gone so far in her career, this episode proves it. Almost singlehandedly, Thurman revitalizes a show that has been putting people off since it began. Her craft is so well handled that it was very hard to keep my eyes off the screen. At the same time, I would watch a spin-off about Anouk’s life in a heartbeat.
– Penn Badgley. He offers great support to Thurman in every scene they share, and at the same time, he shines on his own. Not only is Badgley convincing in his role, he is effective as a performer and gives life to a character that, unlike most in the ensemble, we get to be curious about and care for.
– The duo dynamic. This one is obvious yet it is necessary to get it in writing. “Janouk” works because of all the complications that exist in the nature of their relationship, yet it is also a potent bond because it is different. Most importantly, the couple shines because they have more honesty among them than all the other pairs on the show, not to mention that Anouk and Jamie are, indeed, the most memorable characters. They still fit a stereotype, but probably the one that The Slap abuses the least. Moreover, Thurman and Badgley help the pace of the episode because their acting and chemistry is on point.
[Photo via NBC]