With Togetherness’ first episode “Family Day,” our four characters revealed the flaws in their lives that were holding them back. Michelle and Brett have fallen into a marital rut, both disappointed with their current sex life. Tina is concerned that she’s not going to reach her goals before it’s too late, while Alex is now homeless, self-defeating and ready to give up on his lifelong dream of becoming an actor. After realizing where their faults lie, “Handcuffs” is the excellent followup to “Family Day,” where these four actually start making attempts at fixing their lives.
In an effort to spice up a sex life filled with habit and comfort, Michelle takes the opportunity to surprise Brett with a little dominatrix action. Unfortunately, at his ADR job, Brett’s excitement over recording a wild coyote hasn’t been very well received by his coworkers at the crappy TV show he’s working for.
Melanie Lynskey is fantastic here, clearly terrified at the thougt of trying something new, but still excited by the possibilities. Mark Duplass is hilariously awkward, unsure as to how to react to his wife’s newfound interest in handcuffs and spankings. Duplass is as frustrating as he needs to be, distracted by work, taken by surprise, starving and unable to shut up for one second and let himself be in the moment.
We can see how this relationship is a reflection of their other relationships too. Brett is unable to listen, even when his boss is clearly making the right choice, and during breakfast with Tina, Michelle is quiet and incredibly nervous about shaking things up in the bedroom.If she seemed passive last week, in this episode she dominates, in more ways than one.
“Handcuffs” also gives us that real sense of disappointment we had in “Family Day,” when Michelle and Brett’s experimental night together ends with Michelle accidentally hitting Brett in the balls. What could’ve been a romantic and exciting evening turns into the two of them sitting on separate sides of the couch, watching TV, while Brett holds a Strawberry Shortcake ice pack on his crotch. The whole experience has been an awkward letdown, but these actors have the ability to say so much with one look between them. Michelle and Brett glance at each other in a way that says, “I’m so sorry” and also, “thank you” at the same time. They’re both trying in their own way, and they’re both appreciative of it.
Tina and Alex are less certain of what they should be doing. Tina is filled with good intentions and action, yet she focuses them on Alex instead of herself. She’s frustrated with Alex’s lack of motivation and attempts to fix him as a project. Through motivation tactics (throwing a glass of water on him, getting him to discard of an entire pizza, boobs), Tina puts Alex on the path to getting him the leading man roles he’s always wanted. However, by putting all of her energy into someone else—much like she did with Ken Marino’s douchebag last week—she’s avoiding her own problems that need work and attention.
I’ve really liked Steve Zissis so far—they’ve managed to play him as depressed, but still incredibly charming. There’s a constant wave of disappointment that follows Alex’s character, but it comes with a glimpse of possibility. It’s clear that he’s given up, not from lack of trying, but from trying so much in the past and not getting anywhere. Meanwhile, I think Amanda Peet is having quite a bit of fun playing with her image as an actress and her ability to distract people. It’s an interesting role for her that plays on ideas of where she was as a young actress and where she is now.
Togetherness is already presenting itself as a warm, yet awkward show, with an incredible amount of focus. With “Handcuffs,” we’re getting a series with four character determined to improve themselves, and heading towards those goals. Saying you’re going to do better is entirely different from actually going through with it, so I can’t wait to see how far these four are willing to go to become the people they want to be.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.