Wanderlust, final episode, review: 'Surprisingly neat, understated and even saccharine'

Joy and Alan Richards, played by Toni Collette and Steven Mackintosh, were reunited, their disastrous experiment with an open marriage turned full circle

Sean O'Grady
Wednesday 10 October 2018 12:28
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Joy and Alan Richards (Toni Collette and Steven Mackintosh) reunite in the final episode of 'Wanderlust'
Joy and Alan Richards (Toni Collette and Steven Mackintosh) reunite in the final episode of 'Wanderlust'

Like a long and exceptionally tricksy tantric sex session, those of us who make it through six hours of Wanderlust feel entitled to a happy ending, so to speak.

Well, we enjoy multiple happy endings during the conclusion, as well as some relief that the producers, at the last, resist the temptation to inflict yet more gruesome scenes of bad sex (in every sense) upon us.

Middle-aged professionals Joy and Alan Richards (Toni Collette and Steven Mackintosh), personal therapist and teacher respectively, are reunited, their disastrous experiment with an “open marriage” turned full circle. The centripetal forces of love push them back together again.

But so nearly not, when their lust and taste for adventure almost rupturs the relationship permanently, despite all their careful emotional preparations and insistence on telling each other everything about their hapless lovers’ sexual techniques.

These early scenes show Joy and Alan at their most selfishly unattractive – using other, innocent parties as little more than glorified sex aids. Until, that is, Alan falls in love with his little plaything, fellow teacher Clare (played with much spirit by Zawe Ashton).

Only Alan’s obsessive tidiness saves him from moving in permanently with his much younger love, if that’s the right way of looking at it (I’m trying not to be that judgemental). For Clare flips when Alan moves into the love nest, and the usual chaos of her flat is subjected to the meticulous domesticity of a funny little bloke 15 years her senior, a man who alphabeticises his books. That’s rarely an encouraging sign, let me tell you.

Then poor Claire goes on an excursion to buy the iron and ironing board she doesn’t possess but which Alan needs to keep his jeans nicely pressed – and bumps into Joy in Homebase. Now ensues the classic confrontation between wronged older wife and challenged younger girlfriend, both, pathetically enough, scrapping over the diminutive, balding Alan, who doesn’t look to me to be much of a catch for anyone.

After experiencing the cold fury of Joy, Claire – a bit late in proceedings – seems guilty about nicking another woman’s hubby. Alan then goes to sleep in his mate’s spare bedroom, and decides he’d rather like to get to his nice comfortable Victorian detached home. Breaking point arrives when Alan realised his stock of clean underpants has run out. The sheer horror of going commando prompts a material reconciliation. The glory of love, eh?

The other dramatis personae also see their loose ends tied up. We see the Richards’ elder daughter Laura (Celeste Dring) eloping with one of Joy’s former patients. Teenage son Tom (Joe Hurst) stumbles into unpretentious uncomplicated love with his girlfriend, while younger daughter Naomi seems to be getting closer to older friend Rita (Anastasia Hille). Claire actually starts dating one of Joy’s rejected lovers, a man of satisfyingly slovenly habits. Even the widow of one of Joy’s patients who committed suicide is seen getting on with life.

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So far as I could judge, the only person who isn’t making sex great again is Rita’s ex, Neil (Jeremy Swift). It was Neil, you may recall, who got the ball rolling, as it were, on Wanderlust’s many excruciating moments of sexual embarrassment when he was discovered by Claire pleasuring himself in the English Department staff room with what we used to call a “jazz mag”. I’d love for it to have been Asian Babes, just for the added bizarreness, but I guess we’ll never know.

There is a lot of cake action, too, with moments resembling a cross between Bake Off and the Kama Sutra. There is quite a long episode when Joy, in her bra, stands alone in the kitchen and munches through no less than four of Rita’s muffins (not a euphemism), washed down with milk. Then she goes and lies down by the washing machine for a bit.

This I imagine is meant to be some sort of sensual metaphor for something, but I’m afraid all I could take from it is that marriage is marriage, and you can’t have your cake and eat it. Like Brexit. Joy later admits, “all therapists are fruitcakes”, so may not realise that.

So the denouement of Wanderlust is all surprisingly neat, understated and even saccharine. We end with a tender cuddle between Alan and Joy, and Mackintosh and Collette deserve our sympathy for coping so well with the demands the directors placed on them: they always kept a straight face when needed. Can’t have been easy.

Writer Nick Payne has basically put them, and us, through a six week long emotional and sexual orgy, legs akimbo and passions flaring, but, making it to the end, the survivors have experienced a very welcome, quite gentle climax. How was it for you?

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