Weekly review of the new Elizabeth Olsen show about grief on Facebook Watch.
Episodes five and six of “Sorry for Your Loss” debuted yesterday on Facebook Watch. The half-hour dramedy focuses on Leigh (Elizabeth Olsen), a young widow whose husband, Matt, died three months before the show’s action begins. Her network of family and friends includes her mom, Amy, her sister, Jules, and Matt’s brother, Danny. The action shifts frequently between the present day and flashbacks to points throughout Leigh and Matt’s relationship.
***SPOILER ALERT*** This recap is mostly harmless, but it does reveal one big plot point. If you’re not interested in spoilers, now is the time to turn back! ***SPOILER ALERT***
When episode four left off last week, it was with a cliffhanger. Leigh finally figured out the passcode to Matt’s mobile phone after many days of frustratingly fruitless attempts. We knew there were voicemails on the phone that she was desperate to listen to, but we had to wait to hear them.
Episode five, “Unheard Messages,” gives us that opportunity. Having unlocked Matt’s phone, Leigh finds that there are quite a few messages on it left in the last days of his life that he never listened to — and some of them were left by Leigh herself.
Leigh begins listening to the messages, and the episode shifts to an extended flashback that lasts until the last minute or two. It’s the longest flashback “Sorry for Your Loss” has given us yet, and it focuses on Matt’s depression. He talks to his therapist about it, and he is determined to follow through with the things he tells her he’ll do to help himself — exercising more, meditating, working on the comic he’s been drawing and even submitting it to publishers.
Matt really does follow through. We see him over and over again, setting off from the apartment to go for a run, meditating with headphones on. He keeps trying. And he keeps not feeling better. He’s in a serious low, and his medication isn’t helping any more than meditation is.
It doesn’t help Matt that Leigh struggles unsuccessfully to understand his depression, or that Danny is having troubles of his own, or that Jules, still in the grips of addiction, is in a downward spiral and refuses to listen to Matt’s attempts to give her advice.
There’s a moment in the episode that delivers a punch to the gut. Matt tells Danny about an article he read about a study on happiness. The study found that a person’s basic happiness level never really changes. It might spike after a major triumph or bottom out after a major setback, but eventually it goes back to where it always was. Oh, and the researcher who conducted the study went on to kill himself, Matt tosses in at the end of the story.
It’s a heart-wrenching scene. Now we know that suicide has been on Matt’s mind. We’ve gotten all the way to episode five without knowing how he died, but now the immediate assumption is that he realized his own depression would never go away, and he killed himself.
But “Sorry for Your Loss” is a smart, well-written show, and it doesn’t make it that easy. By the end of the episode, we learn how Matt died — and we learn that it’s entirely unclear whether it was suicide or an accident. Leigh listens to Matt’s voicemails — the ones from Leigh herself, when Matt had been avoiding his wife’s calls in the throes of his depression; the ones from the pharmacy, revealing that Matt had stopped picking up his prescription; the ones from the editor who wanted to publish his comic but was getting frustrated with his lack of contact; the ones from Danny, left after Matt’s death, the words of a devastated brother begging for answers about exactly what happened.
That’s where episode five ends, and episode six, “I Want a Party,” opens with Leigh in grief group, retelling the story of the moment when she learned Matt had died. Leigh, we find, has always thought it was an accident. It’s only when she listened to Danny’s voicemails — in which he asked his dead brother if he meant to die or not — that it occurs to her that his death may have been “a choice,” as she puts it.
The episode unfolds to be all about choices, and one of those choices is Leigh’s new plan to stop grieving and move on with her life. It’s her birthday, and she bounces down the stairs to breakfast with Amy and Jules, bright and cheery and thrilled to be awake. It’s so unlike Leigh that it worries her mom and sister, but Leigh is unfazed: “We all make choices, and I am choosing to have a great birthday!”
If you didn’t know she had used that same word—choice—to describe Matt’s possible suicide just the day before, you might not see the pain hidden beneath her perky veneer. But the façade begins to crack as the episode unfolds.
Leigh has decided to hurl herself back into a grief-free life. Step one, she is throwing a party for her birthday — she invites 657 of her closest friends to join her that night to celebrate. Step two, she’s ready to get back in the saddle at work, and she strides confidently in to declare she’s going to start writing her column again. Step three… no more grief?
That’s not how it works out, of course. As much as we might want to will ourselves out of grief, it’s a process and it can’t be forced. Neither can success and happiness.
(Related: How Long Is This Grieving Going to Last?)
“I’m done putting my life on hold,” Leigh tells her editor when she shows up unannounced in his office. “I’m ready to do this.” But Leigh’s column has been covered during her absence by a young, eager writer — and she’s done so well that the column has gone viral and Leigh’s editor simply can’t take it away from her. It’s a disappointment for Leigh, but she’ll bounce back at the party, or so she thinks.
The forced fun of the party begins to break down even before the party begins, as Leigh goes through her Facebook friend list to invite everybody she knows. One of the first faces to appear is Matt’s. His profile is still active, and Facebook is still recommending him as a friend she might like to have at her party. It’s a jarring moment that many of us have gone through as we’ve returned to social media after a loss. But after taking a moment to breathe, Leigh soldiers on with party prep.
Dressed in a stylish, revealing dress, made up and coiffed, Leigh is the picture of performative joy at her party, brushing off attempts at condolences and doing her best to look happy, happy, happy! But things break down as Leigh has an argument with an old friend who didn’t know how to support her after Matt’s death, then confronts Danny about his belief that Matt may have died by suicide. Jules is having troubles of her own as she has to hold old friends from her drinking days at arm’s length.
In the aftermath of the party, Jules ends up at an AA meeting and Leigh finds herself in the kitchen, deliberately smashing dishes. Amy — who has had her own weird experience at the party — hands Leigh more things to smash. “I just wanted everything to be okay, but it’s not,” Leigh concludes.