There’s a peculiar feeling when you return home after a long time away. Everything is as you left it, but not necessarily how you remember it. Your memory is an unreliable narrator, and there’s really no predicting that you’ll be able to pick up where you left off. All you can do is begin again and hope you remember what you’re doing as you go along.
The same goes for when you come back to a relationship that you’ve been checked out of for a long time. The walls may still stand, but it’s hard not to look around and say, “This is not my beautiful house!” Perhaps the most difficult thing to remember upon your return is that no matter where you were, no matter how long you were gone, no matter what state you left your affairs in when you left, you are responsible for what happened in your absence.
Just as the penultimate episode of Togetherness afforded the opportunity to dig into the complicated matter of emotional infidelity, the finale affords an equally perfect opportunity to unpack the often deeply misunderstood phenomenon of physical infidelity. In the closing moments of “Not So Together,” we see Michelle and David, weakened by alcohol and adrenaline, hapless in the face of their intense connection, give into their attraction and kiss. The slow burn of their romance combines with the exhilaration of Michelle finally getting her moment to shine in front of the charter school committee. The whole thing serves as a moment of both deep catharsis and gut-level dread.
What the audience knows, and what the lovers don’t yet, is that Brett is on his way to Sacramento to surprise his wife with a declaration of love and appreciation. Brett doesn’t know what he’s walking into. Michelle doesn’t know what’s coming. And the only thing that’s certain at this juncture is that everyone shares part of the blame.
Every relationship exists in a fault-based state. The easiest illustration of this is with car insurance. Though it varies, most states have fault-based car insurance. Once an accident has happened, evidence is gathered, and eventually it’s determined which party is at fault. But many incidents aren’t cut and dried. When you’re dealing with complicated factors like cars and speed limits and ice and visibility and construction and who knows what else, there are any number of ways that blame can break down. But every fact matters, each weighed and examined. When all is said and done, often each party bears some of the blame.
Because of the emotion involved, it’s tempting to brand cheating as a zero-sum game, to write it off as a straightforward story, where one party is grievously wronged and the other at fault. But oftentimes this is anything but. Relationships have histories so long and detailed that only the two people involved can ever fully understand them, if even they do. They’re the only two people who know what went on to bring them to the place they are in now. Thus, only Brett and Michelle know the truth of what precipitated Michelle’s decision. And only they can assess who is at fault.
The brilliance, though, of what Togetherness has done throughout its first season is in beginning its story when it did. Where many shows dig into the gory aftermath of infidelity, pausing only to lay blame at the feet of the person who cheats, Togetherness takes you by the hand and walks you through the shadowy halls of a faltering marriage, pointing out the cracks in the foundation, where things like fear and resentment and loneliness seep in, tainting what was once good and strong. So quickly does the show align the audience with Michelle’s point of view that regardless of if the kiss between her and David was right or wrong, it’s impossible to view it as anything other than a relief. No matter the heartbreak to come, at least the tension is broken. At least it’s something, when for so long there was nothing.
For some, that’s what cheating is. It’s something at a time where it seemed like there would never be anything again. Michelle kisses David because she feared for so long that she would never feel anything again. So handily is the series crafted that it isn’t until Michelle stands up in the council meeting and speaks of her background in social work and employment in the nonprofit sector that you realize that you’ve gone seven episodes without knowing a single thing about her. Michelle, the individual, had ceased to exist. By kissing David, she’s grabbing hold of a lifeline that might bring her back to the woman she was, instead of the cipher she had become.
If nothing else, the first season of Togetherness has taken all four of its characters on this journey of self-actualization. It has taken them from a place where they were frightened that things might never improve to a place where they weren’t sure existed for them. They are significantly better off than where we found them in the pilot, and “Not So Together” is the curious sort of finale that gives the characters nearly everything they want, while simultaneously leaving them in deeply precarious positions. It could have worked as a series finale, even — if it didn’t leave things so unsettled.
The same goes for our other would-be couple: Alex and Tina. Alex receives word that he’s been cast as the villain in Larry’s movie and will head out for New Orleans that night. He takes this opportunity to reach out to Tina one final time, asking her to come with him, offering her a way to live without having to settle for Larry.
Tina, for her part, spends the day at a hotel being pampered and relaxing into the life of leisure she opted for in the last episode. But Tina’s unhappiness is written all over her face. She refuses to leave with Alex, but her decision seems tied more to preserving their friendship than anything else.
Alex, too, proves the catalyst for his best friend’s choice to drive to Sacramento. Newly unemployed, Brett decides to let Sophie play hooky from school and takes an impromptu beach day with the kids, letting himself finally be happy and appreciate the beautiful life he has. When he shares his revelation with Alex, his friend advises him to share that newfound positivity with Michelle. He drops the kids off with a sitter and heads north to Sacramento — where his wife has finally, seemingly, given up on him.
But on the surface, for all four of these people, this is a good day. Michelle finds herself and feels whole again. Brett realizes how good he has it. Tina gets what she always wanted. And Alex heads for the job he’s always dreamed of. These four are getting what they always thought they wanted. Maybe season two will show us why getting what you want rarely solves anything.
Togetherness Life Lessons:
You can’t go to school if you aren’t wearing shoes. I wish I had thought of this once my “I think I have mono” excuses ran out as a teen.
It’s weird to see a grown-ass man use a smiley face. It just is. Sorry.
Car karaoke exists. It is almost certainly driving your insurance premiums up.
The right cast is everything. There never seemed to be a natural place to talk about how amazing the collective Togetherness cast was, but without them the show would be a shadow of what it is. It’s hard to picture the Duplass’ vision realized with anyone else in the roles.
The baby’s name is still Frank, and apparently everyone is okay with that. Nothing’s perfect, I guess.