Togetherness, Season 1, Episode 2, “Handcuffs”
Written by Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass
Directed by Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass
Airs at 9:30 PM on Sunday on HBO
The first episode of Togetherness established just how static these characters’ lives are day in and day out. The repetition is so engrained that the routines don’t even seem like routines because nobody remembers what other options there are. Naturally, the second episode is about the ways Michelle, Brett, Tina, and Alex might break out of the ruts they find themselves in both in their careers and in life. Surprisingly, Tina is the one who spurs the rest of the group to try different things, alter their perspectives, and muster even the smallest bit of initiative, even if she can’t do that for herself. It is a tale as old as time; the ones who can’t convince themselves to change are the best at enabling others to do exactly that. Tina’s pep talks to Alex and Michelle are not perfect, and she doesn’t even fully think through the advice she is imparting, but her confidence in the moment is more important than the actual words coming out of her mouth. That alone is enough to light a fire in her friends to change.
Michelle’s nervousness when talking about her sex life in “Family Day” carries over to “Handcuffs” and her attempts to add even an ounce of spice to her marital intimacy. If Michelle is as confident in the directions she gives to Brett as Tina is to her, her interaction with her husband might not end with him icing his testicles on the couch as the TV drones. However, that is not who Brett and Michelle are, and the experiment with handcuffs is proof that they may be boring and stalled in their love life, but out-of-character ideas like that are not the way to get them out of their rut. Melanie Lynskey is perfectly nervous during Michelle’s spanking hesitations. Just as Brett isn’t used to his wife being that forward with orders and withholding plans, Michelle isn’t used to giving unequivocal commands. That role reversal in and of itself is enough of a push to put both parties outside of their comfort zone, even if only for one night.
Alex’s newfound, and presumably short-lived, commitment to healthy eating and exercise also stems from a reversal of traditional gender roles. His expression when Tina tells him to throw out the pizza in order to look more like a leading man is one of stark disbelief, as if no woman has ever spoken to him in as forceful a tone before. For a middle-aged, perpetually single white male living in Los Angeles, it would not be a surprise if that is actually the case. The telling detail in their interaction is that if anyone else used that tone with Alex or criticized his appearance as she does with his hair, he might not be so perceptive. Tina’s attractiveness, and Alex’s clear interest in this manic woman, is the reason he listens to her and acquiesces to her requests. In the same way Tina leverages her looks to get Alex off the couch by baring her breasts, she uses his infatuation with her to improve his life by understanding that the simple act of looking pretty and speaking sternly will get through to him. They both know he will never be a leading man or that his unfortunate hair situation will all of a sudden reverse itself, but Tina has an ability to instill belief and motivation in otherwise uninspired people. Tina is shameless and sometimes vapid, yes, but she is not completely clueless.
Brett is the only one of the four principals who does not take a clear step forward in his mindset. Revealingly, he is also the only one not to have any interaction with Tina. The bedroom experience is Michelle’s idea, and he barely buys into that by the end. He constantly questions her and only agrees to most of her demands when he receives assurances that sex will happen. At work, he maintains the same organization and need for factual adherence as he does at home with his wife and kids. That he is not always the center of things, and is not always in the right societally even when he is technically correct, does not sink in despite multiple instances where this is the case. Instead of accepting criticism from his boss and moving forward in a positive way, he sulks and stews alone in his unhappiness. It would not be a surprise if later in the season it is revealed that Brett is an only child; someone who never had the experience of sharing attention with another person during their formative years.
So far Togetherness is a testament to the ways in which similarly damaged friends and confidants can be the best resources when changing your life and worldview. Brett is the unhappiest of this quartet, and the one who is least receptive to outside instruction or guidance. Only time will tell how long his unwillingness to change will last, especially as the people closest to him make progress and begin to head in new – and at times discomfiting – directions.