Mr. & Mrs. Smith Episode 8 Review – “A Breakup”

Mr. & Mrs. Smith A Breakup

The finality of “Infidelity” put Mr. & Mrs. Smith in quite a precarious position heading into its season finale; “A Breakup” not only has to contend with the toxicity of the past two episodes, but resolve it in time to make one final emotional push for John and Jane as a couple – all while delivering a dramatic, bullet-filled finale to send the (season?) miniseries out on a high note. “A Breakup” certainly accomplishes the latter, going out in an orchestral barrage of sweat, smoke, and blood: but at the former, “A Breakup” never really gives itself a chance, with a third act cop out that not only undercuts the finale’s climatic moment, but negates most of the journey to get there.

It’s unfortunate, because tonally, “A Breakup” feels closer to the earlier episodes of the series, where the series balanced its careful character observations with a lighthearted touch, allowing the allegories of their early missions to illuminate the growing pains of their relationship. But after “Couples Therapy (Naked and Afraid)” and “Infidelity”, Mr. & Mrs. Smith can only approximate that feeling, relying on the episode’s stilted pacing to build and maintain tension throughout. It starts off so strong, too, with the twin attempts on John and Jane’s life, back-to-back scenes that finally take the relics of John and Jane’s old life and put them in direct conflict with their current situation.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith A Breakup

Unfortunately, this leads to the callous death of Max the cat, quickly followed by John discovering a bomb trap set at his mother’s new apartment – a moment that encapsulates so much of what does (and doesn’t) work for Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Void of all context, John’s silent, emotionless freakout over realizing his mother’s new apartment (he moved her to the city DURING ALL THIS – we’ll get to that part) has been rigged to explode is extremely funny, Glover’s terrific emotive choices highlighting the bubbling rage he can’t dare to let his mother see, even for an instant.

However, it’s here where Mr. & Mrs. Smith‘s casual approach to logic begins to undersell itself; what idiot would leave such obvious visual clues for John to discover? Also – why the fuck would he move his mother to the city when his wife and/or employers are probably trying to kill him? Knowing he’d gotten his third strike, you’d think John’s instincts would have him forcing his mother into protection somewhere unknown; and yet, John’s video calling his mother and giving her the address to his own home, putting her directly in harm’s way in particularly boneheaded fashion – the kind of idiocy that doesn’t seem to be forgiven elsewhere on the series, and it gives John’s mother a strange bit of plot armor (that not afforded to poor Max, I might add).

Mr. & Mrs. Smith A Breakup

From that moment, Mr. & Mrs. Smith devolves into noise and madness, as John and Jane try to violently execute each other, first with Jane’s wickedly morbid attempt to kill John (and blow up a bunch of other people, I might add), and following with their domestic gunfight, where the two empty out their hearts and arsenals in their increasingly broken, destroyed home. Save for a brief aside featuring Paul Dano’s Hot Neighbor (he’s a ruthless realtor, it turns out -which… who fucking cares!), the rest of “A Breakup” is all noise and no sound, if you know what I mean, as straight an adaptation of the 2005 film’s most iconic scene as we’ve seen in these eight hours.

The bullets and feelings fly, until John decides its a smart idea to inject them both with truth serum to find out if they actually loved each other; while a small decision, and one that certainly appears logical (given the show’s proclivity to revisit its smallest details), it is one that has consequences for the show’s characters, and narrative arc. By injecting the two with truth serum, Mr. & Mrs. Smith can rush through all of the answers, undoing Jane’s infidelities (she was lying), revealing they do love each other, and ultimately compromising on the issues fueling this first season, from their professional incongruencies to Jane reluctantly agreeing to have at least one child with John.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith A Breakup

And just like that, everything from the first five episodes, all the careful plot building and character work, is thrown out of the window for the sake of rushing to a conclusion (and the obligatory scene between Jane and John’s mother, where another character tries to justify John’s behavior through the season, a storytelling choice that continues to be strange).

Not that I think we needed more episodes of John and Jane’s story; but in its attempts to rush us back to the opening scene, Mr. & Mrs. Smith cut corners in a way that belies their approach to the rest of the season. By flattening its characters and resolving every single bit of simmering tension in a five-minute scene, Mr. & Mrs. Smith crams an entire series’ worth of resolutions into one moment – before bringing back Other John and Other Jane, for an emotionally-charged final scene (featuring Other John’s sneezing tendencies and the panic room Other Jane loved so much, lest we leave any previously-established detail untouched).

For a series so willing (at least, in theory) to engage with the prickly complexities of its main characters, “A Breakup” certainly wraps everything up with a neat little bow – and quickly. It’s difficult to tell whether this came out of a lack of confidence in the storytelling, or the show’s chances of getting additional episodes/seasons to finish telling its story – though given the season ends on a nakedly ambiguous note, a few quiet gun flashes from an apartment window the only answers we’re given as to what happened in John and Jane’s house, and whether any person, relationship, or soul was able to leave that apartment in one piece.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith A Breakup

It ends Mr. & Mrs. Smith on a rather dour note; if John and Jane are only able to summon up moments of honesty when they’re drugged up and riddled with bullets, what story is there to tell here? Not that I’m asking for a happy ending or anything – but the lack of any kind of coherent resolution to the central conflicts raised in early episodes is jarringly missing, swapped out for a simplistic, two-dimensional solution that takes all of the early plotting and careful character work, and smushes them into a loud, almost unrecognizable ball of well-costumed, talented performers going through the motions of a rather simplistic, low-aiming story (the last seven minutes are spent with John and Jane coming to terms in the panic room, for fuck’s sake).

Even its ambiguous ending feels empty; should this show return for a second season, what story is there left to tell? If Jane is willing to make silly out of character compromises, and John continues to be a coddled man-child, what is left for this series to say? There’s no intrigue around The Company and Hihi (except the whole “a rogue Smith became a general of a child army”, if we can call that intriguing)given the illogical way they run their business – so why even leave it open ended?

While I appreciate what Mr. & Mrs. Smith was going for in these final three hours, every choice and reveal in these episodes feels slightly miscalculated, a classic example of ‘death by a thousand cuts’. There’s nothing appallingly glaring about “A Breakup”, but the predictability in which it arrives at its moments of profundity are dull and uninteresting, undercutting the best aspects of the show with some really underwhelming storytelling. There’s so much to like here, from the lead performances (particularly Erskine, who displays a stunning range in the role) to the writing of episodes like “First Vacation” and “Double Date” – that formula just feels miscalculated in these final trio of episodes, a bummer of an ending for one of the year’s most promising new shows.

Grade: C-

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Did anyone notice that after Other John is screaming about being shot in the face… he’s suddenly just on the floor, apparently dead? there’s literally nothing to resolve this, just the sight of his feet in one of the panic room security cameras.
  • John’s mother’s relationship speech to Jane was eye-rolling. Why wait eight hours to reveal a character, if that’s all we are going to get?
  • Most of the fight choreography in this episode is solid, but there are a few stunts where the movements are a bit too careful and exaggerated to really give them the painful physicality they were aiming for.
  • Is it just me, or does this series ultimately feel like it sides with John? Jane seems to get the short end of the stick, whether it is the three fails (all of which John is primarily responsible for), succumbing to John’s pouting about having children, or just wishing for her partner to be “competent”.
  • There’s cynical, and then there’s the mid-credits stinger, where Hot Neighbor celebrates having his Moby Dick apartment finally available for him to snatch up.

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