'The Slap': Nobody's Hiding Anything

by Leigh Anderson
Originally Published: 

The Slap takes a melancholy turn this week; episode three is shot through with themes of grief and loss. The show opens with a flashback to the moment just before Harry (Zachary Quinto) slaps Hugo (Dylan Schombing), but this time we see it from the perspective of Anouk (Uma Thurman). As she watches “the entire freaky tableau”—specifically, Hector (Peter Sarsgaard) canoodling with the babysitter under the stairs—Anouk wonders why anyone would want to be in a relationship or have children. She herself is reluctantly and uncomfortably besotted with Jamie (Penn Badgley), a young celebrity heartthrob with a band and a surprisingly fine-tuned sense of intuition.

Anouk meets with Aisha (Thandie Newton) and Rosie (Melissa George) for lunch; Rosie is positively giddy about Harry’s arrest and brushes off the other women’s concerns. She’s like Joan of Arc, Anouk says later. (In the last episode Harry described himself as a Greek warrior: The viewer can imagine a kind of fantasy mash-up between the martial gods and saints of antiquity.)

Anouk pays a visit to her mother, Virginia (Blythe Danner), a psychiatrist with a plummy English accent and a chilly manner. Virginia is walking with a cane, which she brushes off as a sprained ankle. When Anouk complains of not feeling well, Virginia suggests she might be pregnant, an idea Anouk reflexively dismisses. Virginia counsels Anouk not to tell Aisha about Hector’s near-philandering, advice that Anouk takes to heart. But she nonetheless visits Hector when Aisha’s out and issues an oblique warning not to break up “their” family over a dalliance. At Jamie’s band’s show that night, Anouk vomits in a skeevy Red Hook bathroom. Her mother’s suggestion suddenly seems more plausible; a pregnancy test confirms her suspicions.

Anouk brings Jamie to Virginia’s for a dinner party, at which Virginia announces that she’s just sold her apartment and has accepted a teaching position in Edinburgh—more distressing news for Anouk. The next morning Jamie confronts Anouk: He’s wise to the pregnancy, and he’s eager to step up for marriage and fatherhood—he’s even picked out a name, Olive. Anouk shuts him down, telling him, “I don’t want this and I don’t want you.”

She goes to Aisha for a referral for an abortion; Aisha counsels her to wait a day or two. We learn a little more about Anouk’s strained relationship with her mother: Virginia had not wanted custody of Anouk, but the death of Anouk’s father during the divorce proceedings meant she had no choice. An offhand story from Aisha about her son prompts Anouk to snoop through Virginia’s computer, where she finds that her mother is suffering an aggressive form of brain cancer. The teaching fellowship in Edinburgh doesn’t exist; her mother is seeking treatment there.

Pregnant, faced with losing her mother, and worried about Hector and Aisha, Anouk goes to Rosie and apologizes for her harsh words in the cafe: “The way you love your son is one of the most beautiful things.” She takes a going-away gift to her mother, a suitcase, allowing Virginia to keep her secret of brain cancer even as Virginia tells Anouk she knows about the pregnancy. Gifts are an ongoing motif in this episode: what we give to our children—whether they want it or not!—and what, finally, we give to our parents as they prepare to leave us.

Anouk meets Jamie at a bar and lays her head on his shoulder, seeking the comfort and care she can’t get from and can’t offer to her mother. She’s made a decision to go ahead with the pregnancy, and with him.

This episode has all the soap-opera elements that Virginia derides about Anouk’s television show—plot twists like betrayals, pregnancies, brain tumors, long ocean voyages. But The Slap has a strong undercurrent of grief that soap operas float over: the grief that is the companion to the joy of raising children, the knowledge that there is no beginning without an end.

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