After a nicely paced introductory episode, Togetherness dives right in to its second, offering shocking moments like coyote encounters, marital spanking, and the throwing away of entire pizzas. The episode title, “Handcuffs,” refers not only to spanking props but all of the things that bind us and keep us from what we really want to do.

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All the characters we saw last week needed something shocking to break them out of their respective ruts. Michelle was the first to try, with her Fifty Shades Of Gray masturbation attempt. Now she needs to get laid, as her sister correctly points out, but she needs to get laid in her own way. Overwhelmed by everyone in her family, no privacy, the constant demands of children, plus her new houseguests (including a sister that barges into her room and eats food right off her plate), she finds one refuge where she can finally take control: the bedroom. One small show of dominance: purchasing a lock for her door.

I hated Fifty Shades a lot, mostly due to its horrible grammar, but one good thing came out its extremely popular release: It encouraged a lot of couples (mostly led by the wives who had read the book, I’m guessing) to get more adventurous between the sheets. So it makes sense that Michelle’s awakening would have this particular literary prompt, but she soon learns that what Christian Gray makes look so easy is more difficult to pull off in real life, especially when you have a partner who won’t shut the hell up.

But Brett’s been having a bad day too, bound by his crap-ass TV show and the director’s refusal to acknowledge the one creative thing he’s done all day he feels good about: capturing how coyotes sound in the canyon, only to learn that no one cares about nature accuracy. So Brett’s creative hands are tied as well, and he comes home to a newbie dominatrix wife who won’t tell him the rules and parameters of what’s going on. As far as “cringe” comedies go, this was a scene I had a hard time watching the first time, and it doesn’t get any easier on subsequent viewings, but it gives me more admiration for the actors involved, especially Melanie Lynskey. I love all her silent shots, sipping a drink to bolster her courage while she waits for Brett to come home. And everything she does in the actual spanking scene is perfect, from her frustration with trying to get her husband on board without having to explain the whole thing (which would ruin it), and her little smile when they both kind of get into the spanking, until it all goes horribly awry. Everything that hinders their relationship can be summed up by the symbol of the Strawberry Shortcake ice pack on his crotch. As we all know, there’s never ice when you really need ice, and the couple’s fight over this immediately turns into a he-said, she-said: she says he never fixed the icemaker; he says, “You people never fill the ice trays.” No one ever fills the ice trays!

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So Strawberry Shortcake saves the day, but the best part of the episode is another wordless scene at the end, as the two sit on the opposite sides of the couch. Opposite sides: not good, right? But Michelle’s little smile says so much, like “I’m so sorry, but thank you for trying,” and Brett’s expression back to her is “I’m in so much pain, but I appreciate your effort.” It’s downright lovely.

Both sisters boss their male counterparts around this episode. While Michelle’s demands are mostly about her own needs (which, hopefully, will help her marriage), Tina’s are focused on helping Alex. Lucky for him, because somebody has to dump water to get him off the couch, and again, she’s bossing him around, forcing him to help her schlep bouncy houses around.

After a hilarious and revelatory conversation with her sister about her sex life (“Sometimes I just want to punch him in the face!”) Tina again takes charge by getting everyone out of the house so Brett and Michelle can have the house to themselves. (The juxtaposition of darkened dominatrix bedroom against the bright, balloon-filled indoor playground is pretty funny.) For all her frantic faults, Tina definitely is a woman of action, and it’s not clear why she’s acting so charitable toward Alex, encouraging him to go for the Brad Pitt roles, unless she just really needs a project and has a kind heart. In these two power plays, Alex fares better than Brett, who can’t even get a banana to offset his crashing blood-sugar level; Alex gets to see Tina’s boobs for three Mississippis (although make no mistake, Tina is still definitely in charge), and ends the episode by getting her back for her water trick.

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Both men rebel at first at these transformative projects, leading both women to demand that they stop asking questions and stop being pussies. A general sense of ennui dominated these characters when we met them, and I believe the journey over the rest of the first Togetherness season will explore how they break out of their various funks, a.k.a. the handcuffs. But the show title remains the most important element: You really have to be close to someone to eat food right off their plate, to try to pull off a spanking scene with them, or to ask about the state of their baldness. Brett may get relegated to the sound booth at work, and Alex’s agent may call him a ’tweener (too fat to be a lead role, not fat enough to be the funny best friend), but both are lucky enough to have somebody at home who really cares.

Stray observations:

  • This week’s Togetherness power ranking:
  1. Michelle: pulls off a dominatrix setting in her own home and almost puts her husband in a ball-pain-inspired coma
  2. Tina: gets Alex to throw out an entire pizza
  3. Alex: inspired by Tina, embarks on a self-improvement campaign
  4. Brett: ends the episode curled up on the couch with Strawberry Shortcake in his lap, but still admires his wife
  • Marital quarrel in my house inspired by Togetherness: Me: “Does it really hurt like that if you get punched in the balls?” Husband: “Oh yeah. Really the only thing comparable for women is childbirth.” Me: “What? There’s no way in hell that can be comparable.” Husband: “You’ve never gotten hit in the balls.” Me: “You’ve never given birth!” A quick Google search revealed that we are far from the first to engage in the ball punch vs. childbirth pain debate, with the following answer: They both really fuckin’ hurt. Winner: Husband.
  • I can’t tell if Alex and Tina are headed toward something romantic or not. Their friendship seems almost sibling-like (except for the boob viewing), so it would be nice to see a TV relationship like this develop in a purely platonic fashion. And I like the way he calls her on her various shenanigans (like her weird selfies to the boat guy last week). Can’t decide.

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