Mr. & Mrs. Smith Episode 6 Review – “Couples Therapy (Naked and Afraid)”

Mr. & Mrs. Smith Couples Therapy

As its title suggests, “Couples Therapy (Naked and Afraid)” finds Mr. & Mrs. Smith at a creative crossroads; where the first three or four episodes mostly suggested John and Jane were an arranged pairing potentially worth fighting for, “Do You Want Kids?” began to pull apart the fantastical threads of their honeymoon phase, especially with the final, acidic conversation John and Jane have in the episode. “Couples Therapy (Naked and Afraid)” takes the bitterness of that third act and blows it up into an entire episode – right down to featuring a self-righteous, thoroughly unpleasant couples therapist (played wonderfully by Sarah Paulson), in an episode that, ultimately, feels a little less than the sum of its parts.

The conceit and aesthetics of the Amy Seimetz-directed episode are immaculate, detailing a number of John and Jane missions through their delicate retellings in couples therapy. As the concept of time has all been abandoned by the series, it’s hard to tell whether it’s been a few weeks, months, or seasons since we last saw the pair – however long it’s been, things aren’t going well. As their frustrations and insecurities fester offscreen, “Couples Therapy” reintroduces us to a version of John and Jane doing very poorly. Across the episode’s three therapy sessions, the episode neatly depicts a relationship’s foundation crumbling, between two people struggling to communicate and find a common ground.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith Couples Therapy

It begins on a promising note, when Jane reveals she decided not to ‘replace’ John (which she also told him about, establishing an assumed level of transparency between the two). But where the two begin in the first session holding hands, the physical distance between them in each session begins to mirror the emotional; and as it begins to explore the growing fractures in their partnership, “Couples Therapy (Naked and Afraid)” begins to suggest neither John nor Jane are capable of the commitment required of them, personally and professionally.

However, the episode’s ambitious structure – embedding ‘flashbacks’ within the structured therapy sessions – begins to betray itself pretty early on. The first of these, where Jane impatiently listens to John code switch to endear to a trio of assumed targets, suffers from its lack of context. Though it is fun to watch Jane get angry as John and his new ‘friends’ engage in some light racist humor (which… maybe don’t have Donald Glover’s character make Asian jokes? What do I know), her abrupt killing of the trio display a sudden detachedness from the work, a steeliness that pervades her character in a way that feels a bit underdeveloped, and a crass storytelling style that begins to seep into the other elements of the episode.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith Couples Therapy

The second therapy session takes the poisonous seeds of the first, and festers them offscreen: John and Jane come back even more frustrated, and fumble their way through describing (without any spy-laden details) a mission where John once again tries to improvise, causing nothing but chaos for Jane to clean up. While it is fun to watch the two try to explain throwing someone off a building in software engineering terms, where it lands – the two walking away, with Jane insisting the therapist is taking John’s side – feels cold and cliche, the complexities of these conflicts left offscreen, which renders much of the episode with John and Jane telling us exactly how they feel; though exquisitely performed and shot, it feels a bit empty, a simple excuse to save some budget (by only showing brief vertical slices of tension-packed missions) and employ an abundantly familiar trope for minimal effect.

By the time “Couples Therapy” reached its third and most dour flashback – John and Jane’s second failed mission, where they go back on the fundamental promises they made back in “Second Date”Mr. & Mrs. Smith have left ambiguity on the other side of therapy door. Sitting literally on top of their childhoods (the therapist mentions having the wood of the house she grew up in turned into her therapy floor), John and Jane sit draped in black, detailing their second failed mission, down on their luck and lost in the woods (at one point, John is shooting fish with a rifle).

Mr. & Mrs. Smith Couples Therapy

Quite frankly, it’s a bit exhausting: it’s easy to see why this material was included, but the delivery, and timing, of it feels a bit miscalculated. Mr. & Mrs. Smith, like its main couple, never committed to the idea of John and Jane as a successful couple. That narrative ambiguity serves it well early on, but that is completely snuffed out by the end of “Couples Therapy (Naked and Afraid)” – and their fight, which gives voice to why John won’t break contact with his mother, feels like an abject rejection of the many ideas presented in its first few episodes, snuffing out hope for the two to find equal ground after a fight where Jane insults John’s intelligence and he berates her for being a terrible daughter (and person); it feels like a demarcation point for both show and relationship, a climactic fight marking not only a change in direction for their relationship, but potentially the narrative as a whole.

It’s also strange how the episode tries to balance out its unpleasant elements with an even more derisive, unflattering portrayal of Paulson’s therapist. You know the stereotype already: the wealthy white woman who pronounces ethnic names with passion, vapes where she can hide from her kids, and claps her hands incessantly during sessions while both-sidesing every issue into the ground. Paulson, as always, is terrific in capturing the ignorant toxicity of her character – but what is in pursuit of?

Mr. & Mrs. Smith Couples Therapy

Ultimately, that’s the question it feels “Couples Therapy” critically falls short of answering. What answers it does present, are incredibly nihilistic, even for a story about two hopeless people working a dead (literally) end job. The revelations of this hour posit that maybe these are just two terrible people who deserve their potential impending fate – though that allows more room for the show’s detached, dark sense of humor, it doesn’t leave a lot of enjoyable air left in the room.

While that isn’t exactly in conflict with the early episodes, its increasingly pervasive negativity is undercutting its narrative – and in this episode, do a surprising amount of damage. This episode is unflattering to both leads, to the point it begs the question of what we’re being asked to invest in: it’s not the relationship, which crumbles to pieces mostly offscreen, and it’s certainly not the spy material, which is ubiquitous and vague (which it should be, because did anyone watch or care about The Continental?). So what is it? Hopefully the final two episodes answer this question, or at least provide a more striking set of possibilities than the stilted pacing and dour characterizations offered in “Couples Therapy”.

Grade: B-

Other thoughts/observations:

  • There’s a great bit about a piano John pounds a few keys on, which is revealed to be the instrument that kept her family alive during the Holocaust. (A Jewish therapist? No way!
  • I love the discussion John and his soon-to-be dead new friends have about cops doing TikTok dances to endear themselves to the communities they fail to protect.
  • Is there anything more cringe than a therapist explaining the phrase “out of pocket”?
  • If you couldn’t tell this episode was written by people who grew up in the 1990s, John and the therapist have a passionate discussion about Mya’s music videos (and what happened to her). The song he’s referencing is “It’s All About Me” by the way.

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