This weekend I decided to rewatch the directorial efforts of Jay and Mark Duplass, starting with their 2005 debut, the mumblecore classic The Puffy Chair. In this first film, we see the story of a couple who refuses to talk about the deeper issues in their relationship, until the end when the two finally separate—a minor victory in that they are free to find their happiness now. The Duplasses are always about these minor victories in the face of larger disappointments, from the creation of a film, despite potentially losing friends in Baghead, to the fixing of a wooden shutter, while a character worries about where exactly their life should go, in Jeff, Who Lives at Home. In “Party Time,” we see Brett trying to find his small personal victory for the first time on Togetherness, even if it might be amongst a larger, life-shattering disappointment.
“Party Time,” takes place at two different parties. The first is a fund-raising event for Tina’s business. She’s planned on setting up a bouncy house, inviting a bunch of the neighborhood families over, and watching the donations roll in. Unfortunately the bouncy house is filled with mud and spiders, and she and Alex are childishly ignoring each other. Meanwhile Brett leaves in order to go to Linda’s party, abandoning Michelle to go to some weird McMansion and trip on mushroom tea.
Throughout Togetherness, Brett has constantly tried to help others find their happiness, while he remains a ball of pent up anger and disappointments. Over the last few episodes, we’ve seen him start to care less about others and focus on himself, and with “Party Time,” he goes all in for Brett. He drinks some mushroom tea, becomes friends with a horse, freaks out and Facetimes Alex while puking, and eventually just ends up screaming in a shower. When he gets back home, he wanders about the party in a Obi-Wan Kenobi robe, asking David bluntly if he should be threatened by him or not. It’s Brett not being Brett, it’s Brett trying to be himself.
What most reminds me of The Puffy Chair though, is Brett’s conversation with Michelle, where he says it might be better if the two of them separate for the day—Michelle goes to the party, Brett goes to bed and reads “Dune”—since they’re not good for each other right now. While Brett only means for the day, his wording in this scene seems to speak volumes about how he might truly feel, realizing that his best self might not be with another person at this point.
As for the party at home, this is definitely one of Tina’s better episodes. She’s stuck between two options: giving up or getting help. When he sees her struggling, Larry —along with his ever-present dog in his arms—says he wants Tina to move in with him, allowing Larry to take care of her. Larry’s way is the easy way out and Tina seems slightly put off by it at first, but strongly considers it. Then Alex comes to Tina, offering help rather than a quick solution, giving her a hand as she throws away the leaky bounce castle.
Tina seems to know that moving in with Larry would be giving up, but she’s so tired—and she doesn’t believe she’s really good at anything—she decides to do it anyway. If anything, this puts Tina in a very close position to where Alex was at the beginning of the show, the Alex that Tina rebelled so hard against. What Tina really needs is a person like the one she was with Alex, the type of person who can give her a leg up when she needs it, and won’t give her the easy solution. What Tina needs in her life is her own Tina.
As we head into the season finale next week, everyone is being presented with life-altering decisions that will change all of their lives. What’s so brilliant about Togetherness is that even though we see how disastrous some of these choices might be, we completely understand why these characters would make these awful choices, and we can’t really hold it against them. It’s easy to understand why Brett would want to quit giving off a facade, or why Tina and Alex would want to give up, or why Michelle might want to make a move on David. It’s about all four of these characters potentially doing what the Duplass brothers present best, finding the bouncy house amongst the mud and spiders.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.