The Starter Wife: “The Ex-Files” (Episode 1.06)

TV Reviews

Last week, the birth of Molly’s love affair with Zach prompted questions about the narrative direction of the new series: Would the 2008 version (a continuation of the mini-series) carry on the banner of emotional complexity? We were hoping that the onset of the relationship would see the kind of dilemmas we relished during Molly’s post-divorce period: the insecurity of the fresh tryst, muddled second chances, pride issues, multiple lovers, etc. But this week’s installment took the focus of The Starter Wife from the new to the old.

The aptly titled sixth episode, “The Ex-Files,” is all about the legacy of the lost relationship. The plot centers on a confrontation between Molly and her ex-husband, Kenny, who’s taken legal action to stop the production of her script. But the more interesting story lines within this frame are Joan’s decaying marriage and Rodney’s guardianship over his secret lover’s girlfriend.

Joan very nearly admits to being in love with recovering alcoholic actor David Shea, with whom she’s having an affair. Just a couple of episodes ago, she rushed into the fling to escape her problems with Pappy. Now she’s agreed to take a six-month-long world cruise with her husband to run from David. In that vein, the end of “The Ex-Files” sees one of the show’s more successful movie montages. When her mirage-like lover comes galloping up to the getaway car on a horse (borrowed, no doubt, from the ritzy rehab center, Destinies), it’s as cliche and goofy as it is poignant.

Joan’s struggle throughout the miniseries was with substance abuse. This time around, she’s fighting the death of her marriage, and has grudgingly thrown herself into a passionate new connection. She’d like nothing better than to saddle up with her miraculously sober paramour (amazing how quick, painless and thoroughly rehabilitating a process rehab is in this show, right?), but she’s stuck, committed to a union she has no hope of reclaiming.

Rodney, on the other hand, is now kowtowing to the decorative whims of Felix’s girlfriend, who has turned out to be his real interior design client. (Felix, of course, is on the DL, and has become Rodney’s secret lover.) After she establishes her place as the lady of the house—by forcing Rodney to gut the work he’s done so far—he finds her bandaged from head to toe. She’s gone through an excruciating bout of plastic surgery, in a last-stitch effort to keep her man (whom she believes to be cheating with “some slut”).

A bizarre nursing sequence follows, which is touching, briefly, because Rodney is the guy who would make banana milkshakes for a sworn enemy in her time of need. But in the end his competitive nature takes over. Just when we’re wondering how much longer he’ll bow to her demands, Rodney makes a crack about her being the only “slut” in their mutual boyfriend’s house, then calls it a day and rushes home to eat Chinese take-out and watch Lifetime with Molly.

“The Ex-Files” establishes some important plot points for the show: Molly and Zach have come out into the open with their relationship. Rodney and Joan have forgiven each other, and Joan sacked the affair for her husband’s sake. Will she go around the world with Pappy? We’ll go ahead and answer that: no. But who knows about the timeline from this week’s episode to next? The Starter Wife is proving less predictable than you’d think.

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