The episode in which everything really starts to fall apart.
Credit: Colleen Hayes
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At least “Party Time” is momentous. It’s the one where all the relationships fall apart and Togetherness becomes an ironic title, or something to search for maybe. But it’s also skin and bones with no life or personality outside what little we’ve already seen. It’s a drug episode with a trip that’s enough to scare you straight about how boring shrooms are. Worst of all, it’s a Brett episode.

Brett’s not a bad character, necessarily. TV could use more milquetoasts. Over the season Togetherness purports to investigate why Brett is the way he is, whether he genuinely is happy with his life, and how he might try to fix any problems. Okay, maybe that first one’s a reach. Togetherness isn’t nearly as psychological as neighbor Looking, which is full of formative experiences and telling behaviors. Why is Brett such a doormat? Who knows. That’s part of why the marital crisis is so hard to get a handle on. It’s not that the answers elude us as they elude the characters. It’s that Togetherness isn’t really interested in how Brett and Michelle got to this place beyond generic statements about getting married and having kids and finally reflecting on all that.

Brett does seem to like his lifestyle, though. He likes his sex routine with the pillow. He likes his family day events. Or at least he used to. Which came first, the disruption of Brett’s marriage or Brett trying new things? Strictly from what we’ve seen, the former. At the end of the pilot, Brett and Michelle agree on something: Their marriage is in crisis. It’s only afterward that Brett starts standing up for himself, as a response to the vague and mounting pressures in his domestic life. Now he’s climbing into holes in the ground with strange women. Maybe I was wrong about Togetherness not being psychological. That’s textbook Freudian symbolism, isn’t it?

In “Party Time” Brett ducks out of Michelle’s family day event, a party for the kids, although he promises to be back before it’s over. Really consider what’s happening here. Brett isn’t just leaving his wife to go spend time with another woman. He’s leaving his kids, too. Togetherness hasn’t really endowed the kids as human beings, but it also hasn’t really endowed them as burdens on Brett. They’re just there sometimes, so you could completely miss the fact that Brett’s abandonment is a betrayal of his own routine as well as a betrayal of pretty much his entire social circle, although “betrayal” sounds a little heavy for skipping one weekly party.

Turns out Linda lives in a lavish estate bequeathed to her, and she hosts dozens of like-minded hippies. At the hippie party, Brett tries some tea made with mushrooms. Oh, boy, are we in for a trip! He strokes a horse’s hair while petting Linda. He runs off into the woods scared and FaceTimes Alex in the process. He bonds with Linda in the outdoor shower, and that’s not a euphemism. They just get close and connect on an emotional level. The whole shroom trip is just as strained when it’s going for wacky drug high jinks as it is when it’s going for profound clarity. Besides, Togetherness still hasn’t given us much reason to believe that Brett might actually be interested in Linda, not as a romantic partner but as a spiritual guide. At least the trip gives us Brett’s feelings about Michelle: “She’s my favorite person on the planet. Along with Alex, you know, and there’s this horse I just met.”

But the shroom trip is also a valuable contrivance when it comes to question three. When Brett returns to the family day party, he has a bit of a heart-to-heart with David. David’s reaction is to humor the guy on drugs, so it’s not very revealing from his perspective. But it’s very illuminating about Brett, in that Brett comes right out and exposits how he’s feeling, which is some dramatic shortcut. Brett knows David and Michelle are close, and he’s threatened by David as a man, but he’s not sure if he should feel threatened by him as a romantic rival, and he eventually decides no. But that doesn’t change his mind about what to do with Michelle. He wants to separate. He’s high, still, so Michelle doesn’t really argue. Instead she gives this heart-breaking look off to the side as she reckons with Brett’s “true” feelings, and it’s more honest and revealing than almost anything Brett does this week.

Our disappointment about the separation is tempered by the fact that it’s hard to know if Brett or Michelle will feel differently once he comes down. If that’s the entirety of their conversation on the matter, it’s a waste. What hurts way more in the moment is Alex and Tina breaking up, although theirs comes with a caveat, too. No matter what Togetherness says, we all know deep down that Alex and Tina are going to get together someday.

Alex is awfully smug this week, always off to the side watching everyone else stumble with a humorless expression on his face. He even has time to drive to Linda’s (how does he even know where she lives?) and get back to the party in time to resume his judgmental watch of Michelle and David and Tina’s hours-long failure to solve the mystery of the defective bounce house. (As a rule the bounce house comedy has been awfully disappointing.)

But Tina opens up beautifully to both Larry and Alex. She’s trying to fix the bounce house all on her own, and she snaps at Larry when he tries to help, which opens up the floodgates. She tells him she’s all on her own. She has to be good at this bounce house business because she doesn’t have anything else to fall back on, like he does. To which he calmly responds, yes, she does. She has him. He leaves, but not before giving Tina an offer: Larry can take care of her if she’ll only let him. At the end Alex helps Tina pack the bounce house into a dumpster, and she breaks down. She gives him the same spiel about not having anything, but it feels like rock-bottom this time, like she really realizes it. There’s a calm, gutting shot of Amanda Peet in profile, looking downward and taking stock of her life, living on her sister’s couch, alone well after she thought she’d be married. She hugs Alex, like she’s hugging him goodbye, and she tells him she’s going to move in with Larry.

Why so glum? A rich guy she actually seems to like is offering her all kinds of security with which to safely figure out her life. It’s a telling moment. She’s on the brink of accepting herself as she is, including her happiness with Alex, but she swerves. It’s sad that she feels sad, and it’s disappointing that the Larry life isn’t likely to challenge her the way Alex would. But unless she doesn’t actually like Larry, a perfectly agreeable guy, this is a perfectly agreeable decision for Tina. The fact that Togetherness is so insistently down about it has more to do with Alex than Tina. It’s a running theme: In “Party Time,” it’s the guys dragging Togetherness down.

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The Duplass brothers take their talents to HBO, where their sitcom explores the lives of four adults under one roof. Think of it as Girls for the middle-aged.
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