After last week’s stellar episode, I suspected we were due for a Togetherness letdown this week, but I didn’t think we would end up in a goddamn hole in the woods with Mary Steenburgen. Everything mumblecorny that Togetherness has been rising above, dove back down into whininess this week with “Ghost In Chains”.

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Almost everything seems gratuitous, and tired, and done before. Amanda Peet topless? Yep, seen it, she looks amazing, congratulations to you, Amanda Peet. Brett raging about his life? Yep, been there, last two episodes really, but I think we got the picture when he lashed out as his wife a few weeks ago.

Let’s start with some good stuff: Steve Zissis does look amazing! He probably fared better than everybody else this week, and his insistence on reading for Vlad, and not the funny, chubby best friend, was revelatory. He walked into that undoubtedly intimidating room like he owned the place. But his rant at Tina: all wrong. Of course his feelings are hurt after that abortive makeout session, but she is the one who wrangled this audition for him. Sure, Tina asked him to be a clown, but it’s pretty much all the business he has. And all she gets is a yelled lecture in return?

Michelle and David are circling dangerously close to each other, with just about the sexiest way to open a door ever shot. There was a weird theme going on with Michelle and obstacles: How hard is she willing to work to get to David? She’ll crawl through a fence, she’ll enter an abandoned building, she’ll move a tower of chairs and jimmy open a door only to find a closet. I’d like to think there’s a literary parallel here: Will Michelle go through all these hurdles (so many hurdles) toward a relationship with David only to find that he’s not what she really needs, or life with him will not be the automatic bliss she imagines (aka, a closet)? Heads up, cheaters: Often if we are dissatisfied with our relationship, it could be because we are looking toward the other person to fix whatever is wrong in our lives. When they can’t and we find someone else, guess what? They can’t fix it either.

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I don’t know if Michelle’s own problem is that she has been holding herself back from her relationship with Brett. I do know that the charter school project is the most excited we’ve seen her about anything (except perhaps spanking), and she wouldn’t be the first stay-at-home mom to feel remotely dissatisfied with her life. Look at the stuff she’s gone off and done on her own: strutting the streets in a leather jacket, smoking, demanding a kick-the-can game, breaking open a door: decidedly non-wife, non-mom activities. Maybe her rebellion against Brett is a rebellion against the way her entire life is now.

Brett is due for a bit of a rebellion himself. He’s too nice a guy to really rage against his wife except for a few emotional rants, and feels like he’s getting bossed around by pretty much everyone in his life. So when he’s forced to stay trapped inside his studio for 15 hours waiting on his douchebag director, even running out of vegan bars, Brett lashes out at the people who just happen to be there: unfortunately, his boss and the studio people. His rant is epic, and I continue to love how off-the-rails Joshua Leonard is as the director. But Brett’s moment of rebellion, is meager (shoveling food into his mouth) and counterproductive (threatening his job).

And I’m just not sure how much Mary Steenburgen’s mysterious New Age character is helping the situation. None of this is Steenburgen’s fault; she remains consistently delightful. But I’m not sold on her weird, woodsy character. Sure, I get how some deep breaths can be helpful, even a moonwalk. I defy anyone to justify lying in the ground with branches over them. It’s just absurd. And maybe that’s why I hated the way the episode ended, with Brett in yet another failed rebellion, getting bossed around by someone instead of standing up for himself and not going into the hole. Just like last week in the dugout, he again puts himself into a prison of his own making.

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The ghost in chains references are also impossible to miss: Alex is breaking out of the chubby slot he’s been shoved into, not only with his epic workout, but by flat-out refusing to audition for the fat funny friend role. He’s also breaking the chains that bind him to Tina for his own survival, even though they are chains that he’s created. Michelle literally breaks open a door to pull away from her life as wife and mother (to the point of ignoring her mysteriously absent children: see below). Tina, with her go-to ploy of showing her boobs to get what she wants, is minimizing the fact that she’s an amazing, spirited go-getter who has so much more to offer than a nice rack. And Brett, the described “Ghost In Chains” of the title, has been going along with what everyone else wants for so long, he barely knows what he wants anymore.

The show’s title is Togetherness, but it could also be Happiness, as in what is keeping our main four from this elusive state? This week, togetherness appears to be the problem, as everyone seems to believe another person is their roadblock to bliss. But if they looked a little deeper, they’d find that the real problem lies closer to home.

Stray observations:

  • This week’s Togetherness power rankings:
  1. Alex: for the power move of auditioning for Vlad
  2. Michelle: for being kickass enough to know how to break open an door
  3. Tina: for selling herself short for Larry (although she also believes she’s giving him what he really wants)
  4. Brett: for being in a hole.
  • Where are the kids? Unless I’m missing something, there was no sign or mention of Sophie or baby Frank. I though at first they were home with Tina and Alex, but then they both just took off for the audition.
  • Brett’s remarks that he’s behind on Sophie’s kindergarten applications just indicate how out of touch he is with Michelle; the two don’t even spend any screen time together this episode.
  • Still weird: Larry and Sally. “Sally, Sally, Sally!”

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