Inspired by personal essays submitted to the New York Times column of the same name, Amazon Prime’s Modern Love premiered its second season with ‘On a Serpentine Road, With the Top Down,’ based on the submitted essay by Doris Iarovici. Written and directed by executive producer John Carney, episode one tells the story of Dr. Stephanie Curran (Minnie Driver, Will & Grace), a remarried widow who struggles to let go of her late-husband’s sports car.
This episode centers on love and grief, Stephanie reluctant to part with The Stag and all the memories she and her eldest daughter Sharon (Zara Devlin) associate with the car. The episode manages to balance Stephanie’s past and former lives to ensure neither experience feels more rewarding than the other, and instead focuses on the individual experience of finding and accepting that balance personally, as it’s far easier said than done; as Stephanie wondered, is it wrong that her late husband is still so present in her life?
At first, the episode only shows Stephanie’s mindset and actions from an outside perspective, only able to see her have a one-way conversation on the way home and give an intentionally unappealing sales pitch when a potential buyer comes to visit. Every action and spoken word is that of someone who wants to convince themself they aren’t as affected as they are, which Driver conveys effortlessly, especially when the root of the issue stems from something as complex as a dead spouse.
It’s only when she can no longer delay the inevitable that the audience becomes privy to Stephanie’s inner thoughts as she admits her true concerns about selling the car to both herself and her late-husband Michael, portrayed by Tom Burke (Mank), the source of her grief and the memories keeping her attached to the car the final pieces to the puzzle of why this story even had to be told.
She is initially unwilling to explain the reason for her hesitance to her second husband Niall (Don Wycherly, Wild Mountain Thyme), not wanting to admit her lingering attachment to anyone including herself. But when she finally comes clean, all the questions raised throughout the episode about how Stephanie should feel or what the “right” steps to take are resolved when Niall simply says, “It’s love and grief, baby. There are no rules.”
This episode manages to emulate the experience and aftermath of loss without diminishing any love or relationship from the past or present. This story is not about falling in love, but rather accepting that moving on doesn’t mean having to be rid of all the love and memories that were created, and for the season premiere of a show that seeks to portray realistic relationships and experiences, this was a successful opener that establishes just how real the series is willing to go when it comes to these stories, and while absolutely heartbreaking, the end gives more than enough hope to continue forward to the next episode.