Togetherness Recap: Steel Rod Boner Man

Brett takes Michelle out for a romantic dinner and hotel night, but it can't solve their much deeper problems. Photo: HBO
Episode Title
Houston, We Have a Problem
Editor’s Rating

There are many kinds of nightmares. There are nightmares that threaten life and limb; there are nightmares that are just unsettling trips through your subconscious. But perhaps the most disturbing nightmares are those that place you in the middle of your own life, into situations that you know all too well. They are the nightmares full of surprise tests or college classes you didn’t know you were enrolled in, impromptu speeches and unexplained nudity and trying to drive from the backseat of your car. These nightmares prey on the mundane details of our lives, distorting them until they are monstrous. They take things that we can do, have done, things that are routine to us, and make them impossible for reasons we can’t even process. All we know is that the things we once did so easily are now completely out of reach, leaving nothing but panic and confusion in their wake.

It’s this same disconnect that haunts Michelle and Brett as they desperately try to right the ship that is their withering marriage. Brett decides to surprise Michelle with an impromptu night at a beautiful Hollywood boutique hotel, hoping that his thoughtfulness and investment will serve to soothe Michelle’s skittishness with regards to their intimacy. It’s a sweet gesture, one she appreciates, but a gesture is not enough to fix what has broken between them, and the focus on a romantic getaway only serves to make Michelle panicky. 

Hiding in the bathroom, she calls Tina, who is in Houston with Alex gathering the things she left behind. She reads her the riot act and tells her, with love, to get over it and have sex with her husband. Michelle agrees, but where the mind is willing, the body is weak, and Brett, still sensing her hesitancy, suggests they cuddle and watch a movie instead. It’s this deescalation of the situation, this willingness to not push, that spurs Michelle to give sex another try when the movie ends. Their efforts are disastrous, leading to an argument that’s been a long time coming. But in this fight, it’s not Michelle who breaks down and finally gives voice to her issues but Brett, spelling out exactly how strained he feels trying to support the family and how he tires of having to have sex with the same person for ten years. His complaints, to the audience, at least, aren’t particularly surprising, but Michelle is taken aback by them all the same. In her pain, she’s been blind to the fact that she’s not the only one struggling, and despite her own issues, she's still hurt that Brett feels this way. They eventually talk through it, deciding they should seek out therapy and confessing to each other that they don't want to get divorced. 

As much as this seems like progress, that the pair are finally airing their grievances, not much actually changes. Michelle is still mute about her issues; it’s impossible to tell if she herself understands what they are. Despite every opportunity to open up and finally put a name to what is happening inside her, she stays mum. Seeing a therapist is fine, but unless Michelle can find her voice, therapy will be pointless. As it stands, the couple continues to fumble about blindly, trapped in a marriage that they once navigated so easily and that’s now warped into a living nightmare fueled by loneliness and panic.

Meanwhile, in Houston, Tina and Alex’s friendship is not faring much better. The strain put on the two by Tina dating her new beau Larry the Producer is unfortunate, but things really get out of hand when the Alex goes out dancing with Tina and three of her closest Houston friends. One of these friends, Pam, takes a liking to Alex and decides to teach him how to dance. The two spark to each other, and it’s a refreshing to see someone appreciate him for who he is and not as a project that could be improved upon. 

It’s at this point that we bear witness to the true core of Tina. To this point in the series’ run, Tina has played a relatively stable part. Though she doesn’t make the best choices in men or her own life, she’s always a solid cheerleader for the people around her. But when Alex starts to shine with Pam — by her own admission, one of Tina’s best friends — something ugly rears its head, and Tina sets out on a mission. She grabs a cowboy and starts to aggressively dance, trying to reclaim both the spotlight and Alex’s attention. Perhaps most disturbing about the entire ordeal is how unsurprised Tina’s other friends seem by her behavior. They don’t mention it to her or dress her down about it; they are, in a word, resigned. Even Pam, the friend whom Tina is specifically cock-blocking with Alex, submits in the face of Tina’s overtly aggressive competitiveness.

Alex, however, is not content to let Tina’s actions go silently and confronts her about it on the drive home, where she defends herself by telling him that it’s weird that he would sleep with one of her friends, and that it’s strange when people from different worlds in a person’s life combine, pointedly ignoring that her friendship with Alex does just that for Brett and Michelle. Alex tries to counter by saying that if he can’t sleep with Pam, then Tina shouldn’t get to sleep with Larry, a concept laughed off by Tina wholesale.

The two eventually come to a place of acceptance and forgiveness, but not before Tina makes another awkward sexual joke at Alex’s expense. The underlying notion that Alex will always be up for something sexual from Tina and that it’s a hilarious joke isn’t funny; it’s cruel and leaves the audience thinking that Alex could do a lot better than her, no matter what either of them think. It’s good that Alex and Tina are friends and that their relationship survives the episode relatively intact, but friendship demands a mutual respect that doesn’t always exist between the two, a worrisome element if the relationship has any hopes of surviving, much less blossom into something more.

In the end, this episode lingers in the mind much like the aftermath of a bad dream. A foreboding sense remains, one that suggests this week's minor disturbances will only come back to haunt these characters in much bigger, more complicated, and consequential ways. For now, they continue to exist, suspended in their orbits, completely impotent.

Togetherness Life Lessons:

  1. Mexican Rogaine is better than American Rogaine. But definitely wear gloves upon application.
  2. Biodome is an unappreciated American classic. It will almost certainly cause your wife to want to have sex with you.
  3. Valet parking is the height of romance. If you really want to impress a girl, give a stranger your keys. (Even on a hiking date.)
  4. Every single dance move is called a do-si-do. Especially if you have no idea what you’re doing.