Togetherness, Season 1, Episode 6, “Ghost in Chains”
Sunday, February 22, 2015, 9:30 PM (EST), HBO
At this point, I’ve all but lost hope that Togetherness can salvage this first season. The show’s title and first couple of episodes described a show about four people lost in the transition to their forties supporting each other. Each week, they grow further apart. Michelle has been shamelessly flirting with her crush David, and she isn’t even attempting to hide it from her sister. Tina refuses to take Alex seriously. Brett spends most of this episode with a mystic he met in the woods. Alex is by far the most consistent and relatable character, so he’s keeping the show grounded right now. Even though “Ghost in Chains” is by far the best directed and visually appealing episode of the season, nothing about what these characters are going through works.
The episode opens with Brett walking through the woods again. I honestly thought it was a re-run at first, since the third episode opened up the exact same way. This time, he sees a hand poking out from a shallow grave and wonders if he’s stumbled upon a dead body. It actually belongs to a beautiful older woman named Linda who hanging out in the dirt “connecting with her death.” She picks up on how uptight Brett is by remarking that he’s like a “ghost in chains.” She follows him around the forest, making Brett uncomfortable enough to try and ditch her. Brett has so far been characterized by an aggravating passivity, so when Linda calls him out on his dishonesty, it rings true. However, this revelation shouldn’t have happened with a random mystical stranger in the woods who’s obsessed with death and free spirits. This conversation should probably happen with someone who’s actually important to the show, a character that makes sense. Like his wife. Or his best friend.
Another complaint is that the show seems to have run out of comedic fuel. Amanda Peet is forced to trot her boobs out again even though she already did that a few episodes back. This time, she’s just entertaining Larry, who doesn’t really belong on this show anymore. I honestly thought Peter Gallagher was just a one-time guest star, but he’s still around and has nothing to do but pet his little dog. It’s hard to tell whether Tina is just insensitive or in denial about Alex’s feelings for her, but she decides that a phone call is the best time to bring up his standoffish behavior after he kissed her over a week ago. Alex just wants to be done with Tina’s shit, which consists of her only calling him when she wants something from him. I’m glad Alex has enough self-respect to call her out on this, but where else can this storyline go? They’re pretty much stuck with each other because they live in the same house. The only way to salvage this storyline is for Tina to relent and try to have a relationship with Alex.
There’s a problem with that idea, though. Tina arranged an audition for Alex through Larry, but it turns out to be for the chubby friend role she encouraged Alex to stay away from. He’s been working out and putting chemicals in his hair in order to get in leading man shape, so he’s livid that this is the opportunity Larry and Tina gifted to him. I believe Tina when she said she didn’t know what kind of part Larry was going to offer him, but I don’t buy that she wants him to go for the part anyway. It completely contradicts her earlier pep talk. I love that Alex read for the part of Vlad, the villain, instead of the chubby friend, but it doesn’t ring true. It doesn’t make sense for him to take a stand on this when he doesn’t really believe it, he was just going along with what Tina wanted for him. His anger should’ve been directed at Tina, not the casting director.
Meanwhile, Michelle is having the time of her life flirting with David, the charter school dad. She walks in on him doing physical labor so she can ogle his muscles. That was the moment I almost gave up on this show entirely. They spend a few minutes flirting and invading each others’ personal space while trying to get a closet open, but they don’t act on their feelings. Since it’s clearly a stalling tactic, I found the scene to be pretty useless. It didn’t do anything to develop their relationship at all. They’re in the exact same place they were after the triumphant kick the can win from last week.
And Brett. What a mess this show has made of his character. He has a breakdown at work after being held for 15 hours without food. It seems like this type of work schedule is something he’s been used to for years but never had the guts to fight against. This moment of fearless honesty was precipitated by that odd encounter in the woods with Linda, so it doesn’t quite have the intended impact. If this scene was supposed to be surprising or funny, it wasn’t. It felt unrealistic. We don’t know if Brett has been fired due to his outburst, but if he has, he just threw away his job because a crazy lady in the woods told him he’s a ghost. Then he goes to meet her again in the woods, this time so he can connect to his own death, just like Linda. After he passionately refuses her suggestion saying that he won’t do things that make him uncomfortable anymore, he gets in the shallow grave.
Is this really what the show wants to be known for? Instead of having the core group of characters comes together to be each other’s’ support system, they want to import strangers who spout spiritual nonsense to do the thematic heavy lifting? There are two more episodes left in this season. There are very few options for how these storylines could be resolved by the end, and I’m finding it difficult to care.
Even though “Ghost in Chains” is by far the best directed and visually appealing episode of the season, nothing about what these characters are going through works.