At the end of the first season of Togetherness—and especially at the end of the finale “Not So Together,”—it’s clear that we’ve seen a gigantic shift in these characters in only eight episodes. When we started Togetherness with a beach trip, Brett, Michelle, Tina and Alex were all unhappy in their own ways, unemployed, or frustrated or in failing relationships. At the end of “Not So Together,” many of these problems still exist, but the people who had these problems have changed. When it comes to Togetherness, finding the people who can make you a stronger or better person isn’t necessarily the answer to your problems, but it makes searching for the answers far more bearable.
No one has changed this season as much as Alex, who was lazy, unemployed and unmotivated. Yet through his friendship with Tina, Alex became more focused, lost weight and fought for the things he wanted, from acting jobs to a potential relationship with Tina. Thanks to Tina’s pushing and his own courage, we find out this episode that Alex is finally off the couch and now on his way to New Orleans, having received third billing in Larry’s latest film. Motivated to say thank you to Tina and make one last attempt at love, he rides a bike from L.A. to Santa Monica, flowers in hand, searching for her. Tina gave Alex the power to commit such an act, and now he wants to use that power to find her and try to win her over.
Throughout this season, Alex has constantly been given opportunities to give up. Even at the beginning of this episode, he considers, for the first time since the pilot, moving back to Detroit to maybe teach, or work at his family’s restaurant. Strange that he only thinks about leaving when Tina isn’t there with him. But at every chance, Alex has stood up, taken the tough road and done what he believes is best for himself. When he finds Tina and Larry at their couple’s massage, he points out what both Tina and Alex know: Tina is giving up by being with Larry. Alex represents the hard road for Tina, one that may keep her on her sister’s couch for even longer, and may lead to a much more uncertain future, but one that would be filled with love. Larry basically represents a life filled with swimming and walking his dog. Tina cries because she already knows this, but her mind is made up. As we’ve seen Tina throughout this episode, there’s a happiness that’s not in her eyes, the way it is when she’s with Alex. She’s made her bed and now she feels like she has to sleep in it, even when Alex is pulling away the covers and trying to pull her to New Orleans with him.
Alex ends up going to New Orleans by himself, with literally nothing but the clothes on his back. He’s ready to start this new part of his life that he’s always wanted, albeit alone, but at this point maybe what Alex needs is to find some independence for himself, and see how that suits him.
Michelle also shows us how much independence and power she has when someone has confidence in her. Michelle, David and the rest of the potential charter school go on a trip to present their school plans and get them approved. That means a night away from home, with just a hotel door separating her from David. While Michelle seems to only be along for the ride, she steps up at the presentation when the moment calls for it, standing with David as the person who will run the school when David runs for city councilman.
The worst part about Michelle and David’s relationship is that it completely makes sense. They have more in common than Michelle and Brett at this point, and they both push each other to be something more. In doing so, make each other better people than who they are when they’re separate. This season, we haven’t seen Brett challenge or admire Michelle in the way that David has, instead only seeing the frustrations that Brett can cause in her life.
However “Not So Together” brings us back to the show’s first example of Brett’s frustration—the beach. In the pilot, Brett complained about how much he hated the beach, to the point that he begged Alex to join him for the family beach day to make it bearable. After Sophie has a fit in the car, Brett asks Sophie what she would like to do for the day, instead of going to school. When she suggests they go to the beach, there’s not the expected dread, but excitement about spending the day with his two kids at the beach.
This side of Brett is the side we’ve been hoping to see all season, and as Brett says when he drops Alex off at the airport, he looks and feels more like Alex usually does. There’s hopefulness and excitement in Brett for his family and love that he just hasn’t had this entire season. Michelle was right all along, as confidence and positivity truly are more attractive on him, as opposed to the mopey, dreadful reactions she’s gotten from Brett all season.
As Brett drives to see his wife, still high off her powerful stand at the charter school meeting, we see what is actually happening at Michelle’s hotel. After David and Michelle admit to each other that there are clearly feelings between the two of them, they go their separate ways, to sleepless nights and glances at the door that connects the two of them. Late at night, the two pass notes to each other underneath the door, about how David has helped Michelle come alive and be happy, and how they make each other. When the door finally opens, it’s a door that can’t be closed, as David and Michelle finally kiss passionately, which will surely raise a whole new series of problems.
“Not So Together” might be one of the most beautiful and well-crafted pieces that the Duplass brothers have ever put together. Their writing and directing here is constantly touching and tense. I mean, if James Blake’s “Wilhelm Scream” is playing, you know someone is having sex, but they play the episode’s final minutes with such a delicate balance that it sends the viewer through so many different feelings in such a short amount of time.
Togetherness has been a wonderfully put-together series, filled with phenomenal victories and heartbreaking failures. The Duplass brothers have made a show with four fascinating leads, where every motivation makes sense and every moment feels completely earned. Even with all the growth, these characters are still circling the answers that might potentially make them happy. I for one absolutely can’t wait to see them try to find more answers next season, after this incredible premiere season.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.