Thursday, March 7, 2019

REVIEW: 'Better Things' - Sam Leads with Compassion on Set and Selfishness at Duke's School in 'Holding'

FX's Better Things - Episode 3.02 "Holding"

Sam copes with stuff.

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 next episode of FX's Better Things.

"Holding" was written by Pamela Adlon & Ira Parker and directed by Pamela Adlon

Sam feels like she's transforming into a monster. That is the easy suggestion that the show is making to its audience. She is taken back to a time in the '80s when this kind of transformation can be wildly ridiculous and insane. To her though, it's simply the inability to cool off and fall asleep. She splashes water on her face and that feels so refreshing and monumental. Of course, she is still startled awake in an unfamiliar setting with no immediate awareness of where she is. In that moment, her internal discomfort is transferred to her actual reality. Her trailer on the set of this movie is just as hot as she feels. It is so uncomfortable. It makes her unwilling to return to that space. That feeling only continues throughout this shoot as well. It's not a role that's all that exciting. She is simply coughing while hidden in a pile of bodies. It's a horror pic in which some creatures are terrorizing the world. It doesn't seem like it could possibly be worth 100 million dollars in production. And yet, that's the sad truth about this situation. The director doesn't seem like he cares all that much. He isn't aware that his power is leading to the suffering of other people. It's all completely casual as well. It doesn't seem like he is putting much into this script or trying to inspire the actors. He is just having a pleasant conversation with his assistant who is much more prepared than he is. Of course, she is very presumptuous as well. She has that get-up-and-go energy that drives Sam crazy because she doesn't actually check in to see if people are actually able to do what she requires of them. She doesn't have compassion in the situation. That's infuriating to Sam. And yet, this hour fundamentally highlights Sam's willingness to have conversations with people. While on the set of this movie, she is able to have a fascinating and truly honest conversation with the man who owns the house that has been turned into the makeup area. She knows to honor and respect his privacy. But she can also sit down and have a conversation with him about his life story. She is engaged with the room around her and is willing to ask meaningful questions. She listens to the responses and remains compassionate. That is such a vital skill throughout all of this. Plus, it never gets lost in the importance of the work. Sam doesn't hold up production because she is curious and kind. Instead, she's still waiting around on set for everyone else to get ready. She may be returning to the pile of bodies but she is still recognizable as well. She's not sweating as much as the people who are under a ton of prosthetics. She cares about cooling them down more so than anyone else on set. That proves that she leads with compassion. This is her job. She is doing this to earn a paycheck that can support her family. She just has to do what is required of her for this role. Then, she is right back to her family and their various problems.

Of course, all of this is contrasted when Sam goes to Duke's school for a science night. This episode also proves that Duke is maturing quite a bit as well. The family is still getting adjusted to Max no longer living at home. Sure, her presence is still felt because she calls Sam to complain about the floors in her campus housing. She believes she's allergic to it and can't tolerate it any longer. That may just have to be something she has to adjust to because Sam isn't planning on returning to the city any time soon to invest even more money in Max to ensure she is pampered while continuing her education. She can barely tolerate to be at Duke's middle school. She is essentially using her daughter as a crutch so that she doesn't have to talk to any of the other parents. That's remarkably different than the woman on the set who wanted to know about the life stories of the other people there. Here, she doesn't care about other children's parents because their concerns are absolutely trivial. Plus, they only highlight how horrible some human tendencies can be. Sam would rather walk away as soon as one woman makes a racist remark instead of actually confronting it. Of course, Sam is still more than welcome to start confrontations with other parents. She is willing to hold grudges for stuff that happens to the children even when the kids have long moved past it. She can't stand the family that allowed a child to be mean to Duke. And now, Duke says they are completely okay. They are even friends now. Instead, she is embarrassed of her mother and how she is reacting throughout this night. Sam is trying to keep herself together. And yet, she has her flaws. She is prone to these extreme reactions over things that really shouldn't be a big deal. It's understandable why other parents don't like her too. This isn't how she wants to be spending her night. She just wants to do some science experiments with her daughter. Of course, Duke wants to be far away from her and just hang out with her friends. That's the part of the evening that she enjoys. She doesn't understand why her mother does what she does. To her, Sam is incredibly needy and prone to conflicts. All of his concludes with Sam wanting to get into an actual fight with another mother. It feels like she is forced into that conflict in order to avoid having to deal with one of the other parents there who doesn't like her. This can be such an isolating experience for her as everyone feels against her. However, she is the one who keeps pushing for a confrontation until it inadvertently gets a child hit in the process. In that moment, Sam understands what she has done is wrong and shouldn't be upset about it anymore. But that moment is also extremely telling because of the reaction the other mother has. Duke may be friends with this kid now. However, he's still being raised to be ashamed of having emotions. That's horrifying especially when his mother tells him he can't cry even after she hits him.