This is the one, guys. This is where Togetherness kicks it into high gear. Michelle is standing in for all of us when she says, “I just wonder if there’s any way we can not talk it to death? What if it’s just fun?”

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After a few talked-to-death (entertaining, yet cringy) weeks, this is the fun episode. Not that it doesn’t resonate, not that it doesn’t have some key pivotal moments, but its ability to be funny and life-affirming while still getting all its vital messages about relationships across makes it Togetherness’ new high point. More laugh-out-loud moments than any other episode so far. Plus, some old people defeat some hipsters!

After a devastating first couples’ therapy session (and props to the show for not going the easy route and flashing back to any of the terrible things that happened; just alluding to the horror enables us to imagine any sort of nightmarish therapy scenarios), Michelle and Brett struggle how to get past all the vile things they said. Even for a day. Even for a few hours. If you feel like your life is dissolving, can you actually put that on a shelf for awhile and go have some fun in the park?

It depends on who you are. Michelle and Tina both can. Tina shows off to Brett how she fakes her cover-girl smile while she’s dead inside. Michelle comes from the same family, so it’s not surprising that they would both have this gift, to be able to compartmentalize devastation. Sure, maybe it’s not the healthiest method in the long run, but sometimes it’s just necessary for survival, right?

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Brett has a harder time with this. Over these past few episodes we’ve seen Brett as someone who’s doing the best he can: trying to make inroads at work, only to be let down; sexually rejected by his wife; being an excellent friend to Alex. This episode, he just can’t do it any more, and he drops all the feelings he’s been holding up for so long. His dream bliss afternoon would be sitting in the green leather chair at the Barnes And Noble, reading Dune, which is almost as funny as Michelle’s facial expressions as he’s relaying this to her.

Michelle’s dream afternoon involves kickball, and their friends, and a park, and beer, and although it’s the last thing in the world he wants to do, Brett tries to rally. This leads to a fantastic showdown in the park with hipsters who have reserved the same field for their kick-the-can game. The hipsters have to be loving all those cans of PBR, and as the battle edges toward its inevitable showdown, we know Michelle is going to win. The question is: How?

First, let’s get to some character asides. My hat is completely fucking off to Peter Gallagher for his portrayal of clueless man with a dog. He can’t understand that there’s no way to buy the hipsters off (he’s from Hollywood, where literally everything is a financial negotiation) with movie cards and Starbucks and a yearlong subscription to Jamba Juice. But some life experiences, like a birthday kick-the-can celebration for their friend Sailor, can trump whatever plastic currency you may be carrying around with you. Michelle eventually gets the hipsters to submit into sharing their game by using something much more basic: domination and power (with a little endearing politeness at the end). Alex smartly sweetens the deal for the youngsters by showering them with cans of beer and showing them how to shotgun (Is that a thing the young people really don’t know? It seems like something everyone learns in college, no matter when you went there).

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Alex and Tina some build on their momentum over the past few weeks, with Alex scoffing that he’s not jealous of Larry. But there’s a lot of PBR flowing, and the two have their first kiss hiding in the closet during the kick-the-can game. It ends with a slap, as Alex so poignantly puts it later: “It crash-landed, and everyone aboard died.” Although Tina has certainly been sending out some mixed messages, especially last week, I’m glad she slapped him. Alex was probably the most valuable relationship of her life with a man, that wasn’t based on sexuality, but support and friendship. The kiss, however well-intended, casts an unfortunate shadow over all of that. Plus, they both get captured.

So everyone’s in kick-the-can jail, but no one more than Brett, who gives up and surrenders to a prison of his own making. His beer-soaked self reveals to Michelle how much he’s faking this for her, instead of running to the peppermint tea and green leather B&N chair of his dreams. She’s upset that he just can’t have fun with his wife, but he feels like he’s carrying the dead carcasses of their relationship on his back, which makes actual fun a far ways off. This is here I get a bit fed-up with Michelle, as unstoppable as she is this episode: Brett is trying, okay? He is trying in a scary, fake smile way. He wants to die and he’s doing this day in the park just for her. But because he’s not feeling it, she wonders if he should just be at the Barnes And Noble anyway. So Brett gives up and turns himself in, voluntarily putting himself in jail, and even Alex gets its: “Not a big metaphor guy, but seems like that might be a metaphor for your life right now.”

Then Michelle’s dream date David shows up to help her save the day. The difference between beaten-down Brett and idea-guy David could not be clearer (they even stand on opposite sides of her). When David says, “Let’s figure it out. It’ll be fun,” Michelle’s entire face lights up. Isn’t fun just the best thing to have? And how long since she’s even had any anyway?

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There’s this line from The Accidental Tourist that’s always stuck with me: “It’s not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you’re with them.” With Brett, as much as she tries, Michelle appears to be an ungrateful wife who doesn’t appreciate her husband (remember last week when she kept calling him ”nice”? Death knell). With David, she’s a kick-the-can champion.

Are game episodes like this that take our characters out of their usual life backdrops always a win? (I immediately thought of the also-fun Six Feet Under paintball episode.) They offer our characters, and ourselves, a chance to show what they’re really made of. But another pivotal point: Michelle doesn’t win the game alone. Yes, David’s sprinkler trick paves her way, but Alex and Tina both brave hipster wrath by blocking obstacles for her (I don’t even know if that’s legal in the official kick-the-can rules; will have to consult the ruling board), knowing how important this win is to Michelle. The impotent Brett just smiles from the sidelines, not even getting wet, but still almost notices that his wife isn’t smiling at him, but at someone else. Michelle’s look at the end of episode hints at some rocky times ahead. As our main relationship frays at the seams, others (Alex and Brett, Michelle and Tina, Alex and Tina) fuse closer together, underlining the show’s title once again: Even as things fall apart, as long as we have some supportive people in our lives, we are never truly alone.

Stray observations:

  • Just based on the game, this week’s Togetherness power rankings:
    1) Michelle: champion
    2) and 3) Alex and Tina: supportive friends
    4) Brett: bystander
  • The characters are so similar and even the first name’s the same, so I’m deciding that Peter Gallagher’s Larry is the guy he played in The Player, only 20-some years later.
  • I totally want to go play kick-the-can right now, stat. Unfortunately, it is February and I live in the Midwest where I’m under a winter-storm advisory.
  • “Where do you go after World War III of emotional bombing?”
  • I completely love Alex and Brett’s friendship: “Can you go to Big Five and get me a kickball and some cones and some beer?” “Of course! Love you, man.” And the way he just keeps filling Brett with beer.
  • Just like Tina supporting her sister, knowing that Michelle really needs this day: “Just fake it! Do you see this smile? I’m dead inside!”
  • If you want an unadulterated view of hilarity, check out the mustached guy in the wine-colored Members’ Only jacket and black shorts warming up before the game. He’s my hipster favorite, always running with a can of beer, waiting to let the middle-aged man throw up, racing toward Michelle at the end and getting scared away just by Tina screaming. Or the mom leading her kid away from the middle-aged guy throwing up. I will probably never stop watching this episode.
  • I’m a little concerned about all the beer-can littering.
  • Michelle was thinking about exploding her husband’s car. Just in general, not like a distraction.
  • David understands hipsters: “Just put on some Weezer or Grizzly Bear.”
  • “Come on, Sally! Let’s go break some hearts.”

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