After the previous episode and its lack of momentum, this week’s Alone Together is relatively stuffed with activity and plot. From the first scene, the episode charges out of the gate with what feels like faster than usual banter between Esther and Benji and the immediate introduction of the plots without any fussing around. And this week, both leads get distinct goals. Esther leads with the A-story and her attempt to hold an all-girls sleepover to “cement her place” in the group. Benji is inviting over an old camp crush, Caitlyn (Sol Rodriguez), in the hopes that he has a chance with her now.
Who are these women Esther is planning to friend-woo? They are five women: Jess (Kate Berlant), Cammy (Melissa Villasenor), Cassidy (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Sophia (Michelle Meredith) and Marissa (Jenna Jimenez), who Esther apparently “clicked” with at “Lizzie’s bachelorette party last year.” We don’t know who Lizzie is and we don’t learn until the second act that she was a manager at a juice bar who fired Esther by telling her she was “meant for bigger things.” Unfortunately, it turns out that eight months ago Lizzie died, which is why she did not respond to Esther’s invite. To act as if she had known this, Esther is claiming that this sleepover is to celebrate Lizzie’s life.
The women – now just the four, as Marissa skedaddles immediately – try to take this opportunity to toast to Lizzie’s life, but Esther doesn’t allow it because she wants to guarantee that the women are all sober so that they establish a “real” connection rather than a fleeting drunk one. It’s unclear why these women, who are seemingly immediately put off by Esther, agreed to come to this party, but maybe they figured it would be 1) heavy on the alcohol and 2) more adult in activity (which mostly means no activities). Faced with a sober evening with timed activity corners, the women are about to order a Lyft when they run into Benji.
During this time, Benji’s plan to take a hallucinogenic micro-dose in order to loosen him and Caitlyn up around each other fails when Caitlyn reveals she is (two days) sober and is into more “holistic” living lately. This makes their tether-ball experience awkward, as well as every other attempt they make to find some common ground to connect on. That’s when Benji goes inside and runs into the girls, which dovetails the two plots nicely and creates a third act involving everybody. Benji convinces the girls to stay, because “this party means a lot to Esther,” and succeeds by giving them his drugs. Of course then they’re having fun at the party and it’s awhile before Benji reveals to Esther the truth of the situation. Once Caitlyn starts dancing with the girls and it looks like she might take Esther’s spot and Benji could lose his chance with her.
I thought that was the way it might work out, which we’ve seen before (for instance in the pilot, or “Dean Girls”), where the people they’re trying to friend or woo opt for each other rather than Esther or Benji. To my surprise, that isn’t the way it works out and, in fact, Caitlyn and Esther hit it off when they discover that they are both “Brittany Murphy’s number one fan.” By that point, the other women have called a Lyft to take them away from Brittany Murphy’s grave (which Esther took them to in order to impart some lesson about drug use?), so Caitlyn and Esther can hit it off. It was a genuine relief, and funny, to see Esther find someone as odd as she is (they both consider telling someone “you’re so normal and cool!” a regular compliment). It was a refreshing break from the oft-seen dynamic between Esther and Benji (particularly Esther) and everybody else: that Esther is a weird child-like adult that the real adults can’t relate to and have no time for. That happens with the girls Esther was trying to be friends with, but it was heartening to see her come across someone else like her for even a moment. Not every “real adult” is humorless and boring, which is kind of how all of these foils come across.
Naturally, that relationship doesn’t last long. In a parallel version of the ending to “Pop Up,” Esther meets Benji at the frozen yogurt shop, having “dumped” Caitlyn before she could be dumped once she learned about Caitlyn’s fiancée and her abandonment issues kicked in. It almost becomes funny to see how quickly Esther discards people that are great for her – boyfriends, friends – after trying so hard to find them. At the same time, though, I do wish they would last at least an episode before getting dumped. So while “Sleepover” is guilty of retreading a lot of interpersonal dynamics we’ve seen before, the episode moves at a pretty swift pace and features a steady flow of banter and plot that makes it an improvement on emptier episodes of the past.
- This episode was written by Esther Povitsky and directed by Tamra Davis.
- Kate Berlant is truly amazing at being able to convey SO MUCH SHADE through the smallest of glances. You should definitely look up some of her other work online.
- Benji, re: Caitlyn: “she likes 11 minute songs. I figure…I can’t be worse than that.”
- Benji’s plan to win Caitlyn over is to “tell her how I felt back then and maybe she’ll like me now” to which Esther responds, “communicating your feelings? You don’t have that skill set.” Relatable.
- Esther: “Cassidy, I see you” , Cassidy: “I feel seen, I do!”
- Esther: “I feel like nobody I know has seen Little Black Book” , Caitlyn: “Biggest performance of a storied career!” LBB is maybe the craziest Brittany Murphy movie, and everyone should see it just to have their mind blown. It’s like My Best Friend’s Wedding without a happy ending plus Holly Hunter plus UnReal and minus any romance.