Togetherness breaks down into two parts this week, with two different kinds of tension. Both involve a kind of power play, and in both our players are jockeying for position (heh). Brett and Michelle are trying to find any kind of connection that can save their marriage, while Alex and Tina are trying to figure out what their connection actually is. Both resonate, but both are kind of sad, in their way.

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In the comments every week I notice that there are some people who find this show to be a total drag. I don’t agree, but I understand why. Nothing really momentous happens, as a lot of the action is internal, and most characters could be described as self-absorbed. My husband will watch over my shoulder for a few moments, and the word he comes up with is “insufferable.” But I believe the show has valuable commentary to make about relationships, especially about marriage: This episode in particular offers a bracingly raw depiction of a marital communications breakdown.

It all starts out so promisingly, in a scene that’s cast-off enough to be wholly improvised, as Brett and Michelle enjoy a nice dinner and joke about the soap opera their house has become now that her sister and his friend are living there. Brett announces that he’s full of surprises as soon as they book a valet for once, and his wife is appropriately appreciative of that fact that he found the nice restaurant and planned the whole evening. Seriously, a guy that researches a restaurant, makes a reservation as well as books the babysitter for a surprise overnight: This is a guy who should not be punted out the window. But, if you don’t have enough feelings for him, you don’t have enough feelings for him, and Michelle is so overwhelmed at the thought of actually having sex with her husband, she calls her sister (in the only crossover dialogue of the night from our two plotlines), who pleads with her to just fuck her husband already. But to Michelle, “The whole situation seems insurmountable.”

After a bonding viewing of Bio-Dome (maybe the two are stuck in their own Bio-Dome, a.k.a. their marriage? Possibly reading too much into this, but the shot of Pauly Shore jubilantly running free at the end of the movie appeared to speak volumes), the two attempt to have “regular sex” for the first time in the series, which also leads us to their first major fight of the series. The sex scene enters our lexicon of most cringe-worthy, with various body slaps and oh my God, so much talking, and not the helpful kind. In the “Handcuffs” episode, Brett was the one to ruin the mood with his constant stream of chatter, and in this episode, Michelle can’t stop commenting about the angle of her legs or whatever to help Brett become a “steel-rod boner man.” When that doesn’t work, Brett rightly goes off about how he is trying to keep his family together, juggling everything to keep his overwhelming sense of failure at bay, so he doesn’t have time to have “international peace treaty about the state of my boner.” When Michelle says, “You don’t care about any of the things I care about,” he is totally justified in calling her out on it. He researched a restaurant. He scheduled an overnight. These things should totally be counted for.

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When Michelle asks him afterward if he really meant his rant, Brett’s answer is a refreshingly definitive “kind of.” It’s not easy to have sex with the same person for ten years, but after awhile, does that kind of inertia just breed longevity? Is not wanting to get divorced, like Brett and Michelle, the same thing as wanting to be together? It’s hard to make a long-term relationship like theirs work, but you have to wonder after a point, if it’s too hard, is it still worth it?

At the polar opposite of the relationship spectrum, Alex and Tina continue to circle around each other. Last episode revealed Alex’s crush on Tina, and her subsequent hookup with Larry (Peter Gallagher). This week, because he said he would, Alex is roped into helping Tina pack up her stuff from Texas, where he is inundated with Mexican Rogaine from her parents, and a night out at a honky-tonk with her girlfriends. Alex is immediately at his most charming, and when Tina’s friend Pam, the sweetest girl in Houston, offers to teach him how to two-step, the adorable-meter is off the charts.

This is where Amanda Peet’s Tina character really goes off the rails, but it’s interesting how you can immediately see the wheels turning in Tina’s mischievous brain as soon as her friends start commenting on how cute Alex and Pam are together. He may not be hers, but no one else can have him either. Togetherness’ musical selections so far have been stellar (although nothing will ever likely top last episode’s “Tom Sawyer”); “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” which features a suspense-filled fiddling duel, is the perfect score to Alex and Tina’s hilarious dance-off. Tina says “It’s not a competition,” but of course it’s nothing but.

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Beer-fueled, jealous Tina is so obnoxious—honking the horn to prevent Alex and Pam from kissing, barking at Alex whether or not to go through a red light—I believe Alex is standing in for all of us when he calls Tina out as the giant cock-block and attention-stealer she is. Even her eventual apology to Alex doesn’t do much to soften this persona, and her offer to give him a “handie” leads Alex to ask if she is in fact, crazy. We learn from her parents that Tina is really relying on Alex, and her hug at the end suggests that she really needs him, but does she need him enough to be in a real relationship with him?

As Sartre wrote: Hell is other people. All four of our characters have high expectations and crushing disappointments this episode when their counterparts don’t behave in the way that they might have wished. Brett’s situation is the most devastating, as he had high hopes for his evening away with his wife. But even Michelle probably thought that sex with her husband would at least be passable, and it wasn’t. Alex might have expected that if Tina didn’t want him, she would least be cool enough with him liking one of her friends, while Tina can’t accept it when she’s not the focus of Alex’s attention. No one is jibing with anyone else’s hopes here, which is where the gaps in Togetherness lie.

Fortunately for Alex and Tina, there are many different spectrums between friendship and romance, and the two and the show still appear to be determining where they will land.

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Unfortunately for Brett and Michelle, the categories are much more defined for them: married or not-married. Like George Harrison’s wife said, the trick to staying married is just not to get divorced, but can that really be enough?

Stray observations:

  • This week’s Togetherness power rankings:
    1) Alex: totally charms a whole group of ladies, quickly takes to two-step dancing
    2) and 3) Brett and Michelle: tangled in a relationship conundrum
    4) Tina: turn’s out she’s a hot mess, an immature girl who trades too much on her sexuality and can’t handle it when the spotlight shifts to someone else. Although it’s to Amanda Peet’s credit that she’s able to inspire that much venom.
  • Most cringe-worthy scene: Oh my God, that painful sex scene, although we get to see Brett’s unsexy “Let me get the pillow” in action.
  • Although “Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places” sounds like an ominous song to end the episode with, it’s really more romantic than you might suspect, especially for our friends Alex and Tina: “Now that I found a friend and a lover / I’ll bless the day I discover you, Oh you / Lookin’ for love.”

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