Thursday, March 21, 2019

REVIEW: 'Better Things' - Sam Speaks Up About the Working Conditions on Her Movie Set in 'Monsters in the Moonlight'

FX's Better Things - Episode 3.04 "Monsters in the Moonlight"

Sam deals with monsters.

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.

"Monsters in the Moonlight" was written by Pamela Adlon & Sarah Gubbins and directed by Pamela Adlon

What does it mean that Sam repeatedly sees visions of her father and ex-husband? Neither of them are in her life anymore. Her father is dead while her ex-husband is choosing to prioritize work and never showing up for his family during the small moments where they want him. So, why is Sam's mind consumed with these visions? They are interrupting her life. They are keeping her from getting a good night's sleep. They are keeping her from speaking up on set. It may just be her subconscious mind trying to remind her of what is expected from her in her life. She has been a part of the world for a long time. She has been conditioned into certain behavior. Sure, she is able to have fun by allowing Duke to get behind the wheel and do doughnuts in an empty parking lot. And yet, she is still bombarded with these images of what she is suppose to be. She is suppose to act a certain way. She should be fantasizing about sex with a man because she happens to be horny at this specific moment in time. Returning to Xander may just be one of convenience or because he's the man she has been the most intimate with. It's a crutch of hers that she may be holding onto in order to assert herself as a straight woman. She may not recognize it as such. She is simply annoyed by it and doesn't wish to dig any deeper. Xander is causing more than enough problems by buying Duke a phone and then choosing to ignore a scheduled a FaceTime with her. That is devastating to the youngest member of the family. She wants to assert her own maturity. But she is still just a kid who doesn't know how to cope with all of the ugly and complicated emotions of the world. She would rather lose the phone somehow than try to deal with the concept that her father just never wants to talk with her. That may not be a healthy coping mechanism. But it's also meaningful that Sam steps up and is willing and able to give her daughter the support that she needs. Sure, Frankie frequently says that it comes at her expense. But that may just be her as a teenager who is simply furious at the world all the time. Everyone is working against her while Sam just wants a nice moment of appreciation every once in awhile. All of these unexpected moments keep popping up in her life as well. Max is suddenly back at home with the announcement that she isn't going to be continuing with school. That's crazy because it seems like she barely gave it a chance. She wasn't even there for a brutal Chicago winter. It was too difficult and she quit right away. Sam doesn't want to hear that because of the money she has already spent. She will still care for her child even though she does want her out of the house. It's one less person to deal with on a regular basis. But now, her routine is starting to emerge as the same that it was before. She is working jobs that aren't the best while trying to provide for her family who don't fully appreciate everything that she does for them. Any time she has a chance for a private moment she is going to take it. The show just may be taking her in a new direction that is even surprising her.

Of course, all of this also revolves around the brutal conversation she has with the director and producers on the set of her monster movie. That too is a situation in which her father appears to push her into being quiet. He is telling her that she doesn't have to be the one who makes a scene all the time. Other people are aware of the problems and are working hard to fix them. And yet, Sam can't accept that. She comes to this set day after day and only continues to see working conditions that aren't beneficial to anyone. She has made this connection with Mer. She continues to bond with many of her fellow actors. However, so many are afraid to speak up because they fear the consequences. This is a solid job for them. It may all seem ridiculous now. But it is bound to become a multi-million dollar movie. That is where the genius of the director may actually come out. It certainly isn't being felt on the set. He's not helping the cast to ensure that they understand everything that is going on and feel secure in what they are doing. But it's so much more than just the final product on the screen as well. The industry is more than just the actors and directors. There are plenty of departments on set who also feel as if they haven't gotten the appropriate notifications ahead of time in order to prepare for whatever is bound to happen next during the production. Sam feels the urge to say something because she was just part of a stunt that was much more dangerous than she thought it would be. Her safety was put on the line and no one seemed to have any consideration for how she would feel about it. She has the passion to speak up. Sure, she still demands an apology and doesn't quite know how to finish this huge speech she is giving to the director. And yet, she doesn't have any fear about the potential repercussions of her actions. She isn't alone in her complains either. She gets some support. Of course, it's also chilling to watch as the parent of the child actor is willing to go along with so much. The audience can sense the desperation dripping off of her. She is willing to put her child in any situation in the hopes that it can lead to a massive career in the business. That may be all that anyone is thinking about. But these are human lives on the line here. People have to be treated with respect. That shouldn't be so difficult to do. But Sam still feels conditioned to remain quiet out of fear that she is speaking out of turn. She has been nothing but belittled on this set. She demands to speak up and be heard. It's empowering for her and proves that this is a responsibility that everyone should feel. It doesn't just have to belong on the people in positions of power to look after everyone - though that should clearly be something they care about deeply. But it's also rational for people to show up to do their work without any fear that they are being mistreated and mishandled.