Upon first watch, I didn’t think much of Ross and Rachel’s breakup in season 3 of friends. Surrounded by the fog of “we were on a break”, the episode caused controversy of who was in the wrong (Ross Ross ROSS!!) but didn’t evoke more than that. It wasn’t until 2018 when I stumbled upon an edit of the break-up scene with ‘How To Save A Life’ by The Fray playing in the background that I realised how intense and emotional it really was. Till this day that video has stuck with me and I still can’t watch that scene without the song playing along in my head.
The scene itself is less than 10 minutes but it feels as if you have witnessed hours of the argument, being able to understand every change in mood and slight in conversation. It starts out angry with shouting, and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) hitting Ross (David Schwimmer) with a newspaper, urging him to get out. They go round the room carrying the argument, with a particular jab outside the window where Ross exclaims “she meant nothing to me!”. He points out he only slept with the copy place girl because he thought she was sleeping with Mark (a guy from her work)! An unavailing point when Rachel turns it around and asks how he would feel if she had been sleeping with Mark. We transition to them in a quieter sitting state, where Rachel has her back to him while he looks at her, wide-eyed staring and hopeful that he can turn it around. Realistic as ever, she orders a pizza as a momentary break from the argument, however the bitter feeling is not lost as she purposefully orders one Ross doesn’t like. From the other room, the group ponder whether they’ll get through this, deciding they will as “it’s Ross and Rachel”.
In the living room we see Ross pleading for forgiveness, urging his apology onto her after accusing her of being the reason for their issue, that she was the one who bailed on them in the first place. Rachel jumps away from him, saying that he can’t just kiss her and make it better, it’s more serious than that. The final and most heart-breaking scene appears at the end, with Rachel whispering “I really think you need to go now”. The simplicity of his words “I can’t imagine my life without you” and lists the things he’ll miss- her arms, her face, her heart, are particularly crushing as it shows the power of his love, he’ll miss the little things. They are both crying and he is on his knees, essentially begging for their relationship to continue. But it is over. She used to think of him as “someone who would never, ever” hurt her but he is “a totally different person” now. Everything has changed. Any amount of his insisting will not help. The credits roll with them standing apart but facing each other.
What makes this scene so heart-breaking is how realistic it is. An argument with a splatter of emotions, from anger to tears, one partner fighting for the relationship and even a food break. The switch between apologies and shifting blame, decorated with tears contribute to the portrayal of raw, real emotions- they convey the heartbreak so clearly it feels like you are right there with them. You can feel the brutality of the situation and the weight of Ross’ betrayal. The lack of audience reaction during the fight leaves it out in the air, meaning watchers are hanging on their every word. Comedic input from rest of the gang hiding in Monica’s room provides little light-hearted moments but the overall tone of the scene is set by the argument. When the gang’s reaction to the final scene shows them in tears, the audience feels it too.