“Family Day” opens on Russ catching some waves, but it’s no day at the beach. The season and perhaps series finale is arguably Married’s tensest episode, one in which Russ’s funk comes to the fore, he and Lina confront their divergent priorities, and Lina and Jess verbally duke it out—all over the backdrop of A.J.’s rehab-required apology tour.
First, the lows. All season long Married has had a Russ problem: he’s an absentee father and husband who’s neither killing it on the career front, nor pursuing his creative goals. He’s too wrapped up in his own unhappiness to even consider his wife’s, let alone remedy it. He lies to Lina regularly, claiming he’s bogged down with work so he can toke up with Jess. Russ lies to her again in “Family Day,” playing hooky from his job so he can go surfing, and sticking Lina with the kids, as usual. (She catches him in the act, and is understandably pissed.)
All of the above makes it incredibly difficult to sympathize with Russ, with whom we spend more time than any other character, including the more selfless and practical Lina. When a travel blog inspires Russ to want to move the family to Costa Rica, we can’t help but roll our eyes. Moving to Costa Rica is a lovely idea… if you’re studying abroad, or a footloose twenty-something, or retiring after a lifetime of hard work. Russ is a lazy, middle-aged father of three who thinks a change of scenery will turn back the clock and cure him of his ennui. That he’s willing to uproot his family in his quest for the Fountain of Youth is all the more galling.
Shepard—Married’s reigning voice of reason, and a man who used to indulge in a similar fantasy about Morocco—asks if Costa Rica would really be best for the family. Russ whines, “Is it best for them if their father is miserable all the time” Bear in mind Russ has done nothing constructive to ease his unhappiness: he hasn’t hunted for a better job, or worked on his own graphic designs, or (god forbid) tried to be a more present and sensitive husband and father. He has instead dipped his toe in adultery, downed suds with his buds, and mourned the good ole days when he and his sexually available wife ran a failing surf shop. When Lina tells Russ that a perfect three-bedroom home just hit the market and they should go see it, he sulks like a teen and says he “doesn’t care.”
All of which makes for an uncomfortable Family Day at A.J.’s fancy rehab facility, to which he has invited everyone but Jess (a “rehab junkie” who visits the resort daily for its alluringly damaged residents), so that he can apologize to all the people he’s hurt. (“Where are they holding this thing, the Coliseum?” Shep quips, alluding to A.J.’s far-reaching collateral damage.) Instead, his mea culpas are hijacked by the two couples’ discord, and the apology tour turns into an airing of grievances. The tension peaks when Lina calls Jess out for never being around for her spouse and kid: How long has she bottled that up, I wonder—and how much of it was really meant for Russ?
Weeks later, at a welcome home barbecue for A.J., Jess says that she hasn’t forgotten Lina’s judgment and never will, which is a coldly refreshing surprise given sitcoms’ tendency to hit the reset button and wipe away any lingering bitterness between characters. Not only has she not forgotten it, but Lina’s comment seems to have struck a chord with Jess: she and Shep are noticeably happier and trying to have another kid.
As for Russ and Lina, well, there’s only one adult in this relationship, so it’s no surprise when she meets him halfway on his Costa Rican pipedream—reading the travel blogger’s book (Russ never finished it), and saying she’s “open to” a move at some point. They’ve signed a month-to-month lease to stay at their current house, leaving their future open-ended, but most likely Russ’s Costa Rica will go the way of Shep’s Morocco.
The finale ends with Married’s entire sextet—Russ, Lina, Jess, Shep, A.J., and Bernie (!)—in the same scene for the first and maybe last time, swapping death fantasies. Shep wants to fly to Memphis and gorge himself to death on brisket. Jess wants her children to find her after an “old school OD,” which she considers “kind of glamorous.” Bernie, in a nice callback to the premiere, mimes choking himself and says he wants to go via sexual asphyxiation. Lina wants to murder Russ and then kill herself, which garners awws and how-sweets from their friends. Who knew murder-sueys could be so romantic?
This final scene is what the show should strive for: leaning on the strong supporting cast, it’s bleakly funny with a dash of tension. If this was Married’s swan song, at least it hit some high notes.
Evan Allgood is deputy editor of Trop. He lives in Brooklyn. Follow and maybe later unfollow him on Twitter.