Unfortunately for Brett, he doesn’t have Michelle with him to soothe his spirits after the bewildering chat with the director. It is one of Togetherness’s big strengths, made most clearly this week, that the show is at its best when it takes unpredictable detours with its characters. Here, the mostly home-bound Michelle moves out of zone, done to explore her interests and desires as they pertain to the person she was. Instead of joining the group at the premiere, Michelle decides to change into a leather jacket and stockings and go for an independent night out, where she doesn’t have to play the role of the mother.
So much of “Insanity” takes place at a party filled with insanity that Michelle’s low-key, offbeat evening on the town is actually the episode’s highlight. She has a couple of drinks at a hip restaurant, bums a smoke off some teenage boys who are rather startled by the attention from a pretty older woman, and even crashes a meeting at City Hall. Thankfully, that meeting’s subject is a charter school, Eagle Rock, which is starting up in the vicinity. Michelle and Brett discuss the difficulty of entering young daughter Sophie into a private school earlier in the episode, with the former worried that she will not be exposed to enough diversity in a more elitist place.
After the meeting, Michelle engages with the leader of the initiative, David Garcia, played by frequent Michael Mann collaborator John Ortiz. David is divorced but passionate about his job, although his gesture to drive Michelle home hints that he is passionate about something else. There is a quiet sexual tension simmering in the car after they chat about his community activism. One hopes the creators resist moving into a subplot involving a romantic tryst, although Ortiz’s presence on Togetherness is certainly welcome.
Another romance that could set the show back instead of move it forward is between Alex and Tina. She sees him as a platonic friend, but his attraction toward her is obvious. Of course, his raised spirits after Larry chats with him on the couch collapses when Alex notices the producer leaning into Tina’s glittery dress and flirting with her. Brett notices his friend’s crestfallen stance immediately.
At the beginning of “Insanity,” Tina is trying to get Alex into shape through a rigorous exercise routine. “Do you want to be a leading man?” she yells at Alex as he strains to keep up with the pace. The rest of the episode focuses on the four central characters as they try to assert their own forms of leadership. (Appropriately, none of the actors on this HBO comedy are quite at ‘leading man’ status either.)
The most obvious example comes from Alex trying to find the guts to speak to Larry, but the other characters are in the same need of revitalization. Michelle makes it her duty to free herself from the constraints of her mothering and ends up finding a handful of potential suitors, including the impressive Mr. Garcia. Finally, Brett tries to protect his job security, hoping the director will forgive him from the debacle weeks earlier. With the exception of Tina, who seems to be falling for another powerful man who will likely not be a good choice for settling down with, the rest of the characters are slowly making gains.
It is fitting that this episode of Togetherness begins with an inspiring song about a man pushing forward – “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” the signature Proclaimers tune – and concludes with Brett and Alex air-drumming to a song about a man who has gone on a big journey: Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” “Tom Sawyer doesn’t need to be embarrassed,” Brett informs Alex, making his friends realize that even though the gains may not have been large, even a small progression is a big thing in a toxic town. A small show of guts can go a long way to lift one’s spirits. Just ask anyone who met one of their idols in a movie theater restroom.