Thursday, April 4, 2019

REVIEW: 'Better Things' - Sam Explores Her Mind to Figure Out the Root of Her Nightmares in 'What is Jeopardy?'

FX's Better Things - Episode 3.06 "What is Jeopardy?"

Sam and fam get caught up in some gnar.

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.

"What is Jeopardy?" was written by Pamela Adlon & Ira Parker and directed by Pamela Adlon

At the start of this episode, Frankie bluntly asks her mother why she and her father split. The children were told about it when it happened. However, Sam never really offered the specifics. Xander has appeared on the show before. Everyone is just disinterested in what he has to say about anything. There are moments where it seems like he wants to be a part of this family. But he is mostly pursuing his own selfish interests. He has no feelings towards Sam whatsoever. She feels the exact same way. And yet, she is still suffering from these nightmares where she is continually being raped by him. She doesn't understand it. She sees that as the source of her insomnia. She doesn't enjoy talking about the marriage that they had together. That was when the girls were still young. They didn't need the specifics about what happened that led to the divorce. But now, they are all getting older. Frankie just randomly brings up the subject at the dinner table. The only reason Sam doesn't have to answer is because Phil immediately farts. It's so loud that it completely takes everyone by surprise. It's the perfect distraction. There is even the sense that she did so on purpose to help her daughter out of this awkward conversation. Sam isn't ready to have this talk with her children. She doesn't know how to characterize what that relationship was and why it failed. When she goes into therapy, she is at first taken by surprise because the therapist is her old friend from camp. That brings back a lot of memories. But it seems like the key source of her stress is the agony that comes from seeing just how expensive her girls are on a sheet of paper. That's what she points to as evidence that her daughters are creating too much chaos and she doesn't know how to handle it. She knows how to be an effective parent. She is able to perfectly navigate through a conversation with Max about her sudden breakup with her boyfriend. At first, it may seem cheesy and the exact opposite of what Max would want to hear. But it's such subtle work in creating an open and honest conversation. Sure, it may be yet another instance in which the girls continue to take from Sam without any real consideration for it. But Sam is also willing to hand over her boots to Max knowing that she may never see them again. And yet, that article of clothing may be pivotal to everything that is currently going on in Sam's mind. That's unexpected. But that's also the source of so many breakthroughs in therapy. She didn't know why these dreams were happening. She didn't want to reach out to Xander and talk about them. She certainly doesn't want to fall back into the same pattern of putting on boots and underwear in order to arouse him. That can't be healthy for anyone. And yet, the option still exists in both of their minds. The dress may be gone but the boots and underwear still exist. As such, it would appear as if Sam has always been holding onto this possibility. Her throwing away those boots at the end is symbolic of her officially putting an end to this. She just has to find the courage to do so one more time and stick to her convictions. That may result in her having a good night sleep. But it also still ends with her immediately being struck with her period.

This episode also points out that Sam doesn't need to provide everything for her family. She has raised her children so that they can be responsible and care for each other. Her mother and brother are more than capable of having an honest conversation without her around. That is pivotal as well. It may prove to Sam that she doesn't need to worry as much as she always has. That may only be clarifying to the audience though. Sam isn't at home to see everything that is happening with her family. One moment, Duke is playing around like a kid. And then, she is hit in the middle of the road by her grandmother. That's the moment in which she becomes a woman. That's when she has her first period. That's not something that anyone was expecting. But that's always when it occurs. Duke doesn't feel alright. Phil immediately feels regret and recognizes that something needs to change. It's actually empowering to see her make the decision that she shouldn't be driving anymore. Earlier when she was confronted by Sam, it was a point of pride that was connected to her freedom. She needed this car in order to have an active life. The series has always featured her as slipping further and further away. No explanation has ever been given as to the damage on her car. But now, she is the one who hands over her keys because she recognizes that she can't be responsible with them anymore. She is very mature and understanding in that moment. Plus, she can still approach it as a negotiation with Marion. She has the leverage of knowing that she can use this to get free Uber rides for life. Her family will just have to pay for them. But that could offer them peace of mind knowing that she is still as free as she wants to be without needing more help from her children. Sam and Marion already have full and busy lives. That's what makes the final punchline so effective. She had no idea that she missed Duke having her first period. Frankie is very sensitive and willing to help guide Duke through that journey. In that moment, Duke wants her sisters because they will understand everything that she's going through. Frankie is there for her. But she's incredibly dismissive of her mother as well. She doesn't ultimately care that she would have an opinion about all of this. It's just completely normal and loving. That too is very special. It just leaves Sam in a compromising position for the moment. But that will pass. She will get through all of this and her family will still be very supportive of one another.