How did flim-flamming Toby Fleishman flip-flop end up here? Here, in his kitchen, holding an expensive, rotten quarter of a watermelon? Watermelons in season are delicious, but as the saying goes, they are also plentiful and low in value. $14.99 for a pitiful fourth of a watermelon in the middle of summer? Not in a region awash in high-quality products at reasonable prices. But also, more existentially, What Did Toby arrive here, holding an overpriced rotten quarter of a watermelon, which is 100 percent a metaphor for the absolute state his life is in these days? Welcome to an episode narrated almost entirely in flashback. Oh, and grab some Kleenex – this one is trying to break your heart.
It is painful to see that good love is spoiled, but what if we are seeing that a delirium of good faith is spoiled? I don’t have a direct answer for that yet, and I suspect I won’t until I see the last frame and reread the last paragraph. There’s no doubt that Toby and Rachel find each other cute at one of Seth’s parties at Columbia Business School. Toby and Libby spend most of their time watching and narrating, perfectly imitating David Attenborough, Seth’s flirtation with a hot Israeli, but eventually Toby decides to take on the punch bowl. Rachel is close to her, watching the nature documentary unfold before her like Toby was with Libby, but she’s doing it alone. She’s cute, he’s cute, all it takes is a little bargain banter like flirting and, bam, they’re in the middle of a dirty sweet weekend, which quickly becomes permanent.
The full negotiation exchange is worth watching in a bit more detail with the benefit of hindsight: Rachel warns Toby that she’s going to beat him; she tries, anyway. She makes an offer, he counters, she walks away, he can’t resist following her and whispering a counteroffer of everything she wanted and more, and who could resist someone laying the world at her feet like that? This, the very beginning, where everything is potential and no one is seething with resentment and contempt, is a high point for their entire relationship. Rachel is very forthright about what she wants: After a youth she spent with an emotionally remote grandmother on a shoestring budget, financial security is number 1 with a bullet. Toby, never having considered in detail what he imagines her future life as a doctor, husband, and father to be like, projects her fledgling hopes onto her and dives in, assuming things will work out just fine, as usual. done.
And they do, for quite some time, but the warning signs are there from the start. Not so much about Rachel as about Toby. He can’t or refuses to see what’s right in front of her face. Toby knows Rachel is an orphan, who was starving for the parental affection necessary for her to form secure bonds in other relationships. The knows she thinks he should study a medical specialty that promises a decent work-life balance and the highest possible income. How is it that he doesn’t realize his deep need to be sure that he has an executable plan? How could he miss the difference between her cheery “It’ll all work out” and his “Well, sure, maybe, but only if we make sure it does”?
You can’t pull out of obscurity and nurture the Broadway-conquering career of Alejandra Lopez (Rachel’s main client as a stage talent agent) if you haven’t read every newspaper published in the five boroughs, including The Canarsie Messengerwho is the only one who mentions Alejandra López and her eventual great one-man show, Suffrage Monologues. Rachel isn’t just opinionated, she’s not just a skilled negotiator, not just someone with an eye for talent. She’s all of that and she’s a little desperate to succeed. She’s a potent combination, but she doesn’t contribute to a life based on values congruent with Toby’s.
He thinks his values are the best and is puzzled that Rachel doesn’t subscribe to all of them once she explains how correct they all are. Toby is a good person whose career choice is correct. If he spends his working life doing good to his neighbor, it will be a life well spent, an end in itself. Tell me you’re a comfortable middle-class person who received a traditional Jewish upbringing without telling me, etc., etc. That is also my training; I get it, this is deep! What I don’t understand is how Toby fails to understand the difference between making life decisions based on one’s ethics and expecting one’s spouse to make the exact same decisions based solely on their own righteousness.
Righteousness alone, as Rachel might say, isn’t necessarily going to make dinner—something other than steamed chicken and vegetables, for Rashi’s sake! – in the table. A doctor’s salary, even in a rarefied specialty like hepatology at a prestigious Manhattan hospital, is not enough. You are not going to pay tuition in the elite private schools that you intend your future children to attend so that they can make friends with other children born into privilege and obtain a higher education in elite institutions, from which they can graduate into professions. elite (not medicine; medicine involves overwork and visible effort is for fighters, not elite). She wants them to be able to move through the world with as many barriers as possible preemptively removed by the generational wealth she hopes she and Toby are building. Rachel has some understanding of what it feels like to rush, and she’s been a powerful fuel for her ambition, but she also feels the burden that she is. Like many parents, including Toby himself, she wants her children’s lives to be better than her own have been, and the factors she’s identified as life-enhancing are money, geography, and connections. The last two flow from the first, which makes her nervous. And she stays there.
Rachel stays in fifth gear professionally even after having Hannah and Solly, going as far as founding her own drama agency as her first act after abruptly ending her maternity leave. It’s an impressive and bold career move, plundering her former agency of her best clients (including Alejandra López) and her staff, with profitability not far behind. And what do you have to worry or feel guilty about? Hannah is in good hands with Toby and his charming nanny, Mona. This arrangement is better for everyone: Toby can be virtuous, Rachel can earn the money she knows they will need for the future, and Hannah will prosper. Everyone is doing the things they are best at and she doesn’t need to occupy herself with thoughts of being a poor mother. She It is not a poor mother, but the combination of a truly harrowing birth experience and her anxiety about the lack of mothering skills she sees in other new mothers is too much to bear. The work she knows how to do: The year Solly is born, three of her agency clients open shows on Broadway. She is unstoppable! Leaning on!
It’s fascinating how, even though this episode is narrated by Libby, and she’s on Team Toby, there are flashes of skepticism about him and sympathy for Rachel. Rachel fights dirty, cruelly, and that makes us shudder. We also shudder at the way Toby is always taking out on Rachel her seething, petty resentment of the other parents in her social environment. They seem like some of the most boring people in the world, so who cares what they do or think, but Toby can’t shake his condescending comments about his career and his easy acceptance of his role. as main parent. Masculinity threatened, Toby can’t stop making incidents like Rachel being sexually harassed at work about himself. Fleishman, a lot of his trouble is because he invites trouble.
Other little humanizing details find their way into Libby’s storytelling. During Rachel and Toby’s first weekend together, they swap pivotal stories about themselves: where they grew up, what their families are like, their favorite songs. Rachel only has a memory of her late mother, not a specific event, more a sensory memory, but it is enough to support her lifelong belief that pining for her mother must mean that she too I loved her. (I said you’d need Kleenex for this episode.) God, this poor girl. Raised by her late mother’s mother, who no doubt clung to the idea that doing her duty while she was stricken with grief was the best she could do: this is a true new moon emily stuff!
No wonder Rachel finds Toby’s intact family and their weekly Shabbat dinners intoxicating: “You’re so lucky to have family,” she whispers. Being surrounded by people who attack and annoy, of course, but people, after all! People who care about you and say so! What a concept! It’s no wonder she’s ambivalent about her pregnancy, no wonder she feels like she can’t bond with or calm little Hannah down, no wonder she turns to practical financial considerations as her primary method of showing she cares. And oh yeah, her surrogate obstetrician assaulted her during labor by shedding their membranes without seeking your consent. Giving birth is quite difficult under ideal circumstances. Being forced to put the security of your child’s entrance into the world in the hands of someone who has already hurt you at your most vulnerable moment is gold-plated folly. No, thanks.
Fast forward to a horrible dinner where Rachel, not understanding that choosing an unattainable celebrity is crucial so that her free pass doesn’t destabilize their entire relationship, names Sam Rothberg. Sam Rothberg? That bland, dark, James Van Der Beek-looking boy who doesn’t even do anything worthwhile with his life? The one who tried to lure Toby into working for his pharmaceutical company? Wait, could Rachel be with Sam Rothberg? right now???
• Toby and Rachel’s first meeting is not unlike Claire Danes’. iconic love at first sight scene with Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet. The unsubtle needle drop of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” almost screams “I find cute!!” But it’s not just that. Rachel’s cute patterned top, with a Japanese painting of fish, looks like a visual callback to the fishbowl through which doomed lovers first look at each other, and the (all too brief) banter that makes everyone else at the party they fade into insignificance it crackles very well indeed.
• Special mention to Jesse Eisenberg’s line readings that thread the needle of neutral curiosity with a searing filament of passive aggression. They’re all good, but his “Is that…formula?” coming home the day Rachel founds her own agency is pure gold.