So far in its first season of Togetherness, every episode has propelled these characters forward in a realistic, believable way, without treading too much on the same territory. For the first time though, “Ghost in Chains” feels like the show is finally treading water, with our characters getting stuck in the same ruts we’ve seen them in before, without much forward momentum.
Worst of all here is Brett, who keeps digging himself out of problems, only to accidentally stick himself back in the same mindset. He was sick of his wife telling him what to do, he confronted her last week, and this week for the first time, we don’t see Brett and Michelle in the same scene. In “Ghost in Chains,” Brett is tired of his director being a general douche to him (this week he made him stay in the studio for eighteen hours, with only his vegan bars to sustain him). Brett essentially runs around in a haze, eating and drinking everything in sight, before lashing out at the director. Well good, right? Brett is finally standing up for himself! Good for him.
Except, not exactly. Having met a woman on his trail who put herself in a hole and covered herself with twigs and leaves, Brett goes to meet her again for a moonwalk. Linda, played by Mary Steenburgen, wants Brett to do the same thing—to get in the hole. Brett sort of loses it, stating that he’s tired of being told what to do and that he refuses to get in the hole. And then he gets in the hole. You would think that Brett, having just stood up for himself against his wife and his job—the two biggest factors of stress in his life—would have enough self-confidence to stand up to the hippie lady he just met on a path who wants to bury him. But here we are, with Brett getting stuck in the same predicament, this one just far more literal than what we’ve seen before.
While Brett is getting stuck in a hole, Michelle is going through a hole in a fence to get to what could be her salvation: David. With little more than a text, Michelle goes off to meet up with David at a prospective charter school, crawling through a fence, digging through a pile of chairs and crowbarring her way to…a closet. Is it safe to say that David’s pretend excitement over opening a closet is a metaphor for his and Michelle’s relationship? The anticipation makes it look like there might be something greater behind the door, yet when it’s opened, you’re just staring at a dusty, dead end.
Most of our characters spend “Ghost in Chains” separated from each other, except of course Tina and Alex. Even after their awkward kiss during Kick the Can, Tina is still trying to use Alex, asking him to play a clown for a birthday party, and in general, as Michelle puts it, being a cock tease to Alex. Tina gives Alex some great news —that Larry wants him to be in his newest film—but what she doesn’t say is that he’s up for an audition for the chubby best friend, not exactly the leading man part they’ve been fighting for.
This plot line does give us those bits that Togetherness does so well, with an argument where we can see how both characters involved are right and wrong. Alex should be glad that Tina got him this part, but it is exactly the type of work he’s been trying to avoid. He no longer wants to play the clown, no matter how good Tina thinks it could be for him. Tina was kind in getting Alex this opportunity, but she should realize that this isn’t exactly the Brad Pitt role she declared she was going to give Alex.
More than anyone in “Ghost in Chains,” Alex takes the most steps forward, taking the audition, but on his own terms. He doesn’t go for the chubby best friend, but instead for the larger, meatier role he originally thought he was going for. From the sounds of the audition, it seemed eventful, at the very least, with Alex riding his high all the way into telling Tina that they shouldn’t work together anymore. Whereas Brett is digging his own hole over and over again, Alex is realizing the larger problem here and trying to eradicate it, even if it might not be the best thing for him and his career.
After the big steps taken by last week’s great “Kick the Can,” “Ghost in Chains” feels like a cool down. Togetherness feels like it’s retreading the same steps, but with some heavy-handed symbolism this time. It’s likely just the calm before the final two episode storm, but it’s still a bit of a disappointment, considering what came before it.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.