I have written on the show Togetherness previously here at Little Utopia, mostly because I love the work that the Duplass brothers do. A lot of their work has a lot of honesty and some surprise. Unfortunately, the line that separates honesty from absurdity in this show has been crossed. I won’t go into all the details of setting, because I have done so in my previous article, but I’ll attempt to bring some clarity about Brett, a character with whom I said I sympathized.
Sound composer Brett, played by Mark Duplass, feels the walls of his family life closing in on him. He is silenced at his job because of his need to pay the bills, even when he knows better than his boss does and even when he feels as though a project should go in a different direction. His boss always gets to the job late, creating more work and less time for Brett to have “Brett time.” His marriage is as sexless as his relationship with his boss, other than the times when his wife throws him a bone (no pun intended) and gives in to him. It is during those times that Brett is simply just trying to get the job done (knowing that this is all he gets), while his wife Michelle tries to stoke the dimming embers of passion in their relationship.
The alienation that he feels from his family and his work causes an existential and mental breakdown of sorts. Brett meets a woman named Linda, a spiritual mentor. Well, she isn’t exactly spiritual, but she kind of is. While Michelle is off with her new friend and co-founder of a charter school, David, Brett continues to spend time with Linda. He quits his job as a sound composer. Michelle has now just become the new headmaster of a charter school. And Brett now feels the weightlessness and joy of being able to do anything he wants, “like it was when he was in college,” as Brett says to his best friend Alex.
There is a ton of stuff going on here — different issues having to do with education, marriage, and infidelity. The show also says something about spirituality, and this is where the show has gotten strange.
Linda, whom Brett befriends, is a wealthy woman (they are all pretty well off) who opens her home to wanderers and mystics from all around. They “crash” with her and do psychedelic drugs like mushrooms, which can apparently be made into a tea. Although he is freaked out at first, Brett begins to feels safe in that space, at least around Linda, where he can be free to be who he wants. In fact, she encourages that. Do whatever you want; nobody has to stop or infringe on your desires. Brett then screams in the forest, pets her hair while crying, misses most of his daughter’s birthday party and when he does get to the birthday party, would rather spend time in his bedroom reading Dune than being with the folks out in the backyard.
The representation of Brett’s emotional life is troubling. He wants to be free to express himself, or give himself the time to do whatever he wants, but rather than express that to his wife, he rejects her. Most of the communication between Brett and Michelle features Brett acquiescing to Michelle’s requests or Brett pitching a hissy fit about not wanting to do so. The show began through Brett’s point of view, and for a while it seemed as though Michelle was the more hidden of the two. But it turns out that Michelle is incredibly forthright about what she thinks.
It’s because of this hiddenness that Brett has to go out and look for his bliss. The sort of spirituality that the show espouses is the same sort that we find in movies like Jeff, Who Lives At Home or How I Met Your Mother, where the “universe” operates in deistic (but oddly personal) ways. The universe has no shape, no dogmas, no truth, but it does give us signs that we should follow. Brett begins to understand and verbally say, after taking mushrooms and not attending his daughter’s birthday, that whatever it is that he feels — happiness, or positivity — it is not there when he is around Michelle.
Consider a quote from Sam Harris, an author and professor who writes about spirituality without religion:
Most of us spend our time seeking happiness and security without acknowledging the underlying purpose of our search. Each of us is looking for a path back to the present: We are trying to find good enough reasons to be satisfied now.
Acknowledging that this is the structure of the game we are playing allows us to play it differently. How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives.
The problem exhibited by Brett is the same sort of problem I see in this quote by Harris. Both Brett and Harris seem to operate under the thesis that their lives, their happiness, and their being is the chief end of their existence. This line of thinking undergirds not just the notion of “spirituality,” but also any kind of ethical reflection. Sure, other people are important as long as it doesn’t interfere with my bliss, which comes in the form of many things and is subject to revision as time passes and I change.
I am not saying that Brett is wrong for quitting his job, or wanting to read Dune. Nobody would say that. But it is the journey that he has decided to take that I am uncomfortable with, his increasing obsession with running away and looking for a golden calf that looks exactly like himself.
Previously from Christopher Cruz:
♦ What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been: The Career of Adam Sandler
♦ Will Derrick Rose Ever Return to MVP Form?
♦ The Heat is On: Miami Acquires Goran Dragic
♦ Why I’d Prefer Harper Lee Not Publish Again
♦ Why I am Drawn to “Togetherness”