It may seem like everything is coming off the rails for Amanda Peet’s Julia Wells, but perhaps it’s only the world catching up to her. In “Expectation”, the fourth episode of The Romanoffs, we are treated to a day in the life of Julia as she meets and speaks with people from her life where shaky ground starts to give way and reveal the problems underneath.
Julia is plagued with memories of the times where expectations were not as heavy nor as consequential. The past is important to her, as we learn throughout the course of the episode, as a blueprint for this day in particular. The weight of choices, age, and things out of her control all clash against her, things she thought she had control over all these years leading up to this. “Just because I don’t do things the way you did doesn’t mean I’m doing them wrong,” her daughter Ella (Emily Rudd) says, as a nice brunch date between mother and very pregnant daughter quickly unravels.
Julia retreats back to the familiar, close friend Daniel (John Slattery) taking her to a bookstore for a distraction as she faces the fears middle age and incoming grandmother status and secrets long in the past. But if anything, the familiar only makes things worse for her. But then, everything seems to be setting her off. The world plagues her. Julia wants to do right by her decisions, but as the past keeps coming back, that familiar she keeps attracting, it can prove a difficult choice, one finally out of her control.
Peet, when given the right spotlight, can show off her talents in expert fashion. Shows like HBO’s Togetherness and IFC’s Brockmire, as recent examples, both were and are great roles for her, allowing her different and effective personalities to different and exciting characters. In “Expectation”, Peet reacts as though everything is a perceived slight, nothing going her way; when pulled back, as an audience member, it all seems like everyday life. But it’s because of the larger scale, the internal conflict we see, the more intimate moments with her character, where Peet is able to show the real reason for these reactions. It’s a big role, and she defines it incredibly well.
The episode finds Slattery in a more vulnerable role. Daniel carries significant meaning to Julia. The show continues to go back to Daniel, and Slattery gives a soft performance full of disappointment and regret. He’s wonderful here, and gives “Expectation” a lot of extra power. Rudd and Jon Tenney play shorter roles in the episode, Rudd as Julia’s daughter Ella and Tenney as her husband Eric, but both have equally affecting scenes when given the time with Julia their characters need to really work.
“Expectation” captures New York City beautifully through cinematographer Chris Manley and director Matthew Weiner. The restaurants, bookstore, and city streets are all gorgeously captured. It’s also a shorter episode than those previous, coming in at 63 minutes compared to nearly 90 minutes. It’s worth noting, as “Expectation” does not feel bloated and does not overstay its welcome in the slightest.
Writer Semi Chellas and Weiner have created an hour of The Romanoffs more penetrable than those before it. It’s a human story of getting older and facing yourself, whom you’ve become. It’s alongside “The Royal We” as the more effective and powerful episodes of the series so far, and brings The Romanoffs, as it hits its halfway point, to having more substance than perhaps originally perceived. The show has something to say, and with Peet’s character, is doing just that.
“Expectation”, the fourth episode of The Romanoffs, airs on October 26th on Amazon’s Prime Video.