“Houston We Have a Problem” pushes the awkward levels of Togetherness further than we’ve ever seen them pushed before, and in doing so, creates one of the most relatable episode of the series so far. This episode has all four of our main characters in various states of hopelessness, taking brutally honest stands in the name of love, with none of them quite working out the way they was intended. There’s always been a level of resting disappointment in the characters of Togetherness, but in “Houston We Have a Problem,” they all fight against this, unable to escape that quagmire, but perhaps making strides towards eventual happiness.
Brett takes the biggest chance this week, taking his wife out for a date night, which he has planned out beautifully, and ends with a surprise hotel trip. Brett is trying his best to do what he thinks Michelle wants, which is to be improvisatory and to shock her, but just not exactly in the way that she would prefer. When she realizes that sex is expected, she can’t take the pressure to perform, and instead suggests they just lay in bed and watch Bio-Dome, much to the chagrin of Brett.
What makes Brett’s attempt even sadder is Michelle’s attempt to return the favor. Her half-hearted move to have sex with her husband consists of her just going through the motions that she’s grown tired of. It’s obvious she’s bored and when Brett grabs a pillow for her head, we know it’s not what either of these people want. When Brett can’t perform because he “can’t get a rhythm going,” he rants about not being a steel-rod boner man, and yells about how he’s just trying to make it work. He makes some very valid points about trying to make everyone happy, and how he can’t support all the weight. After the biggest fight we’ve seen them have, Brett is clearly at that point where he’s so hopeless, there’s nowhere to go but to be brutally honest, and accepts Michelle’s idea of going to talk to a therapist together.
I have appreciated how in the previous three episodes we’ve seen Brett and Michelle hold entire conversations with just a look or a smile, but in “Houston We Have a Problem” we also get to see how that’s not enough. There needs to be a conversation at the right time for these two, and not just when one or the other is trying to make sex work. Talking could either strengthen what they’re trying to do or tear it right down, but at this point, it’s what Brett and Michelle need.
Meanwhile, Alex has joined Tina on her trip to Houston to pick up some of her stuff from home. Alex and Tina’s Houston trip is a big chess game, which Tina doesn’t realize she’s even in until she’s already lost. Alex is noticeably disappointed that Tina abandoned him for producer Larry, but still goes along with he, because that’s the kind of great guy he is. In Houston, we see the level of the symbiotic relationship between these two, with Tina’s parents stating that Alex is Tina’s support system, who frankly probably needs him just as much as he needs her.
I love how Togetherness shows how Alex is defeated when he’s by himself or with friends, but then comes to life when he has an audience to perform in front of. This works wonderfully as we see Alex immediately becoming a charming ball of fun with Tina’s Houston friends. His outgoing nature attracts Tina’s friend Pam, and the two make a pretty adorable couple together, right away. When Tina sees them together, she is desperate to break them apart. It looks like there’s something inside of her that doesn’t like the idea of Alex with someone else, but she doesn’t know what it is. Is it just insane jealousy, or something more?
“Houston We Have a Problem” shows the differences between these two during their impromptu dance-off. Tina is determined to win and seemingly wants to shame Alex for his attempts at happiness without her help, whereas Alex just wants to have fun. By not caring at all, Alex wins the battle, and he’s also winning the war by getting inside Alex’s head.
Like Brett in the hotel room, Alex puts it all on the line and admits to Tina that if she can abandon him for someone else, then he should be able to do it to her. Alex is an irrational drunk in the moment, but later that night, we see just how much Alex means to her with a hug that says the things that Tina is too afraid to say just yet.
“Houston We Have a Problem” gives just the right amount of fearlessness in these four characters, as they’re trying to deal with their emotions in these new situations. Everyone is hopeless to a point where they’re giving the 100% truth, because there’s nothing to lose. That’s a dangerous point to be at, but it can also be good for them. Like these characters, Togetherness is brutally honest, frustrating, yet beautiful at its core and completely understandable and relatable in every choice.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.