Tina tries to stuff a bouncy castle in a residential trash bin.
Photo: Colleen Hayes/HBO
When people talk about infidelity, nine times out of ten they’re talking about the way it physically manifests — the awful, sexual aspect of being unfaithful to a partner.
What’s less portrayed is emotional infidelity. Partners turn to others for true, emotional intimacy, undermining the foundation of the relationship they are ostensibly committed to. When a person sleeps around on a partner, it’s damaging, but when a person forges a new and impassioned emotional connection with someone that begins to supersede a committed relationship, it’s unthinkable.
This is where both Brett and Michelle find themselves this week, as they each find distraction and comfort with someone who isn’t their spouse. As borderline as Michelle’s friendship with David has been over the season, it’s only in “Party Time” that she begins to wade into seriously dangerous waters, refusing to lie to David about Brett’s absence from the party, following it with a tentative “things are not great right now,” to which David replies, “I’ve been there.” What Michelle fails to keep in mind as she basks in the comfort of being truly understood is that David understands her because David is divorced. And it’s unclear whether Michelle understands just how dire her situation has become and, perhaps more frighteningly, whether she cares.
But Michelle’s not the only person opening her heart to someone else. Brett blows off the charter school’s fund-raising party to attend Linda’s gathering of souls in a further attempt to find himself. In reality, he finds himself some mushroom tea and gets trippy with only Linda and a friendly horse to guide him. It’s a relief to finally see Brett achieve some sort of release from the strain of his everyday life. He confides in Linda about his childhood and the idea that maybe it was okay for him to be weird. He pets her hair, and they scream together, face to face (though fully clothed) in the outdoor shower. Linda lets him freak out, and she calms him down, which is more than Michelle has been able to do in some time.
The brilliance of Togetherness is how deftly it plays what the audience knows it’s supposed to want against what viewers yearn for. Traditional narrative demands that you root for the married couple to stay married, even as the heart aches for characters to find some semblance of happiness. The series makes viewers choose whether they’re more concerned with accepting something for what it is or whether they believe it could be something better.
This is key to the relationships at work on the show. There comes a point in any relationship when you look at your partner and see them in one of two ways: as someone who completely accepts you for who you are, or as someone who doesn’t accept you for who you are but, rather, for who you could be, as your best possible self. In truth, these are both wonderful attributes, neither better than the other. But in certain situations, certain crucibles, it can feel better to race toward the comfort of the former, or the challenge of the latter, particularly if your current partner offers neither.
No two people or relationships are the same. Take Michelle. In her blossoming relationship with David, she finds someone who believes her capable of great things even though he’s seen no evidence to that effect yet. It’s something he takes on faith. Whereas, in Brett, she finds someone who has loved her for a long time and simply yearns for her to return to being the wife he’s known. He wants her to be who he believed her to be and isn’t emotionally prepared for the changes she may need to make. Similarly, Michelle is completely unprepared for Brett to make changes, feeling deeply unsettled at his newfound interest in New Age practices. Linda wants to facilitate Brett’s change, not to become a different person, but merely to acknowledge who he’s really been all along. In this situation, both Brett and Michelle are looking for someone who believes in their potential. As of yet, they aren’t finding it in each other.
But on the other side of that coin, one finds the ongoing trials of Alex and Tina. The two spend the episode pointedly denying each other’s existence, forcing Michelle to act as their go-between. Without Alex’s assistance, Tina takes on the task of managing her bouncy castle herself and roundly failing, ending the party embarrassed, miserable, and dirty, all the while lashing out at Larry for not understanding the real-life ramifications of failure and trying to stuff an enormous bouncy castle in a residential trash bin. It’s at this point that Alex takes pity on his friend and offers his help, driving Tina and her broken-down castle to a random Dumpster for disposal. She tells him that Larry has asked her to move in and speaks at length about her supposed options. Tina confides in Alex that he was right about her, that she isn’t interesting or cool or deep. She’s not good at anything. And she’s tired of banging her head against the wall. It’s a moment of quiet devastation and introspection from the character you’d least expect it from. And when Tina is done, as Alex comforts her, she says that she’s going to move in with Larry.
Tina chooses Larry because she’s tired of fighting to be the best version of herself. She’s tired of trying, and Larry loves her just as she is. With Larry, there’s no need to struggle toward self-improvement. Were she to pursue a relationship with Alex, she’d need to keep trying because Alex believes in Tina and her potential for greatness. But Tina isn’t like her sister or like Brett. Tina is tired, and she’s ready to be loved just as she is.
By episode’s end, all that is certain in the world of Togetherness is uncertainty. “We’re not good for each other right now,” Brett tells Michelle, refusing to continue talking to her lest it ruin his good day. The question heading into the finale has to be “Will these people ever be good for each other again?”
Togetherness Life Lessons:
Sometimes we know things without knowing that we know them. “She’s my friend like you’re friends with David.” She sure is, Brett. She sure is.
Don’t say fuck in front of the children. This seems like a given.
Mary Steenburgen would probably be okay with you petting her hair if you were also petting a horse at the same time. That’s what I took from that scene, at least.
On mushrooms, you can have a lot of favorite people. Brett’s list includes Linda, that horse he just met, Alex, Michelle.