Thursday, February 28, 2019

REVIEW: 'Better Things' - Sam Drops Max Off at College and Wants to Explore the City With Her in 'Chicago'

FX's Better Things - Episode 3.01 "Chicago"

Sam and Max go on a trip.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the season premiere of FX's Better Things.

"Chicago" was written by Pamela Adlon and directed by Pamela Adlon

It's absolutely fascinating how Sam wants her children to be older than they actually are. The obvious reason is that they would then be more responsible and less dependent on her. However, she actually yearns for that more honest and open relationship with them. She has always prided herself on being a genuine and frank parent. She tells her children exactly what she thinks about them and what they are doing. But she is always there to support them as well. She is a fantastic mother. She is just always exhausted. Dropping Max off at college in Chicago is a bittersweet moment. When they land, Sam wants to experience this new city with Max. She laments Max not being 21 so that they can go to bars and check out the local scene. Sam sees this as a completely different cultural experience. It's something that will only benefit Max in the long run. This is going to be a healthy experience for her despite how terrified she is before checking into the dorm. That is such a relatable moment. She has no idea who her roommates are going to be. She doesn't know if she will like living in this city. She doesn't even have to put up with a Chicago winter yet. Right now, she has the support of her mother who is willing to buy everything she absolutely needs. Of course, she prioritizes the contraceptions. That too is very honest and real. She wants her daughter to be safe and smart. It's not even a big deal either despite how many of them Sam buys. Max will always need her mother. And yet, this is the first part of her going out on her own and making something of her life. It is scary but she quickly makes friends as well. That means her night out with her mother is cut short. That means that Sam is right back to the realities of her life. This was a trip where both mother and daughter enjoyed themselves and had a fun time. That is evidenced in the pictures that they took together. But now, they have gone off on their separate journeys. Max isn't seen again after she hugs her mother. Meanwhile, Sam is getting even more of the realizations that she too is getting older. In the opening scene, none of her clothes fit as well as they used to. It's shocking to her because it seems as if she has just bought all of these things. And yet, she is also encouraged because things aren't changing all that much either. She is still recognized just as frequently in Chicago and on the plane as anywhere else. Sure, it doesn't lead to anyone actually helping her when she needs it. It's scary to think about all of Max's living supplies on the street being watched over by a security guard. That's the reality of the situation though. It's what Sam has to do in order to make this a pleasurable experience. She does so even though she's in the midst of menopause. She still feels young in some instances. She delights in being carded at the airport bar. But that's just the policy of the place no matter how ridiculous it seems.

All of this also informs the moment in which Sam and the other passengers fear that their plane is about to go down. It's scary to see smoke quickly fill the cabin and the flight crew try to remain calm as they put out the mechanical fire. It requires the plane to make an emergency landing. The passengers are only given a voucher to use at the local airport as well for a drink. This is nothing but a complication they all have to deal with on their journey home. And yet, some are freaking out in the air while others are calm. In that moment, Sam doesn't want to share her story with the other passengers on the plane. She doesn't believe she is going to die in that moment. But she also has a vision of her father. That is so unusual and unexpected. It may hint at further importance in the narrative this season considering this isn't the only time he pops up here. In this moment though, he's simply telling Sam to enjoy her drink because there's nothing she can do and the crew isn't taking the alcohol away from them. If this is the end, then it will at least be quick and sudden. Sure, it would remain tragic. But there is some peace to be found in that as well. Of course, this isn't the end of Sam's life. It's just a scary moment for a little while. She is still able to get back home relatively quickly despite this detour. When she walks through the door of her home once more, things immediately go back to normal. It's actually surprising how much is the same as it always was. The show had to take an extended hiatus between its second and third seasons due to the firing of co-creator Louis C.K. This episode proves that Pamela Adlon is just as skilled a writer and director as ever before. Every moment is mesmerizing to watch. That indicates that the show will still be remarkably strong despite the loss of his voice. It was always Adlon's show. The characters could have returned in different positions in their lives though. And yes, there is the immediate change of Max now being at college. She is in a different city now. It's unclear just how frequently she will appear this season. But it's also telling that when Sam returns home Phyllis is still causing problems because of her failing memory, Frankie is freaking out over her homework and Duke is actually trying to communicate with spirits in her room. There are even people at Sam's home that don't even belong there. She doesn't know them. And yet, that doesn't stop her from having a bonding moment with Frankie. Sure, she would love to just relax after this trip and everything that happened to her. As much as she would love for things to change though, they are very much the same as well. Plus, not all change is inherently good. Sam's body is changing and her mother is getting older. Those are the new challenges she will have to face. She is just choosing to read a play with her daughter instead of freak out over the damage to Phyllis' car.