Togetherness, Season 1, Episode 2, “Handcuffs”
Sunday, January 18, 2015, 9:30 PM (EST), HBO
Michelle, Alex, and Tina last week, they had all begun to face the great disappointments of their lives. Brett and Michelle had stopped having sex, Tina was back to square one of the dating game, and Alex had been evicted due to his unsuccessful acting career. Now that they’re all living together, it’s clear that Tina is the doer of the group and the best anyone can do in her presence is give her advice a shot. It’s an episode that leans much more toward comedy than drama, giving the few things that happen lots of space to fully explore the awkward tension. Things get so out of hand that Mark Duplass goes full frontal and a perfectly good pizza ends up in the trash.
The episode opens with an introspective and focused Brett doing his best to capture authentic coyote sounds without getting eaten. Apparently, his job involves sound effects and editing. Later, his director on a terrible looking TV show makes fun of his dedication to authenticity and goes back to the inaccurate sounds of a wolf. Brett is angry at this dismissal of his work. Now we know his job can be unfulfilling, which means he is battered with disappointment in his life from all directions.
Michelle rarely gets a moment of true privacy. Although she enjoys spending the morning by putting on too much makeup while dancing and singing sans pants in front of her baby, Tina rudely interrupts her. Over breakfast, Tina convinces Michelle to get honest about her sexual desires. Michelle laments her predictable life caused by her predictable husband’s habits in bed. Tina suggests that Michelle needs to get laid and generously offers to babysit so she can have some alone time with her husband.
It seems as if Tina has boundary problems, because she also wakes up Alex by pouring ice cold water on his head. After he refuses to help with her party supply business, she chooses to bribe with him with a view of her boobs. After a lengthy negotiation, he exchanges his labor for 3 seconds of seeing her boobs. It’s a scene that may have been funny later in the season, but it felt like a pretty abrupt and unrealistic thing for Tina to do without knowing her character very well. Later, when they’re at a children’s party, Alex gives a bit of his backstory as a hunky, popular, jocky teenager. Now that he’s overweight and bald, he’s struggling to find parts. His agent says he’s too big to be a leading man, but not fat enough to be the funny sidekick to the leading man. He figures if he eats more pizza, he can edge closer to the latter category, but Tina stops him in his tracks. She makes him take the first steps toward leading man status by reconsidering his “island” strategy for dealing with his hairline and throwing out an entire uneaten pizza. He complies with the pizza thing, which for him looked stressful and cathartic in equal amounts.
Back at home, Michelle waits for Brett to get home from a long day at work. She’s dressed up in a black dress, fishnet stockings, and tons of make-up while she nervously sips her drink. The first thing he thinks when he sees her is that she’s on her way out. His second thought is that dinner would be nice. Michelle tries to set him straight, initiating a sexual game of domination for which he is wholly unprepared. As she makes him undress and constantly shoots down his requests for food and intimacy, the scene gets progressively uncomfortable. It’s easy to imagine it going better if she just explained up front what she wanted instead of springing this night on him without any warning or parameters. Things go too far when she spanks him off target and he is forced to apply his daughter’s cartoon ice pack to his balls. Their once promising but now disastrous sexual encounter devolves into a typical married person shouting match over who does and doesn’t keep the ice cube tray filled. It’s intensely humiliating, but as a couple, the failed attempt seems to have at least thawed things between them. As they sit far apart on the couch, they wordlessly exchange looks conveying mutual admiration, love, and forgiveness.
What works about Togetherness so far is the easy chemistry between four phenomenal actors. The way they stumble over their words and repeat themselves feels natural and unrehearsed. Even the minor characters and guest stars all fit well within the tone of quiet exasperation. No one has fully given up, but they’re right on the edge. Pulling them back is someone taking action or speaking the truth, in this case, Tina. She isn’t a fully believable character yet, but I’m interested in what she has to say and how easy it is for her to take a leadership role in the group. Michelle is the most compelling character to me so far, largely because of Melanie Lynskey’s restrained and quietly tragic performance. There’s also the added bonus of seeing Mark Duplass in all of his adorable naked glory. I like that the nudity in the show has been equally divided between men and women so far, something that seems out of place on HBO where naked women far outnumber naked men. I found this episode much more charming than the pilot. It was quite refreshing in its honesty and it truly surprised me how far it was willing to go with the situational humor. This is a show that has a ton of potential. I can tell they’ve barely scratched the surface of how raw and uncomfortable it can get for these four.
- “Let me get you the pillow.” Whenever Brett and Michelle have sex, he says he’s gonna get the pillow so Michelle’s head will be comfortable while he pounds her. Naturally, this bores Michelle. She wants her head to get knocked around!
- “Are those pantyhose?”
- “I respect the hell out of your sonic acumen, but your coyote sound was fucking stupid.”
- “You’re laughing at the fact that I’m follicularly challenged?”
- “Can I grab a sandwich or something?” Silence from Michelle. “Like a snack?” poor Brett, too hungry to be turned on.
. It’s an episode that leans much more toward comedy than drama, giving the few things that happen lots of space to fully explore the awkward tension. Things get so out of hand that Mark Duplass goes full frontal and a perfectly good pizza ends up in the trash.