Thursday, May 16, 2019

REVIEW: 'Better Things' - Frankie Lashes Out at Her Mother While Sam Celebrates a Big Birthday in 'Shake the Cocktail'

FX's Better Things - Episode 3.12 "Shake the Cocktail"

Sam searches and takes a breath.

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 finale of FX's Better Things.

"Shake the Cocktail" was written by Pamela Adlon and directed by Pamela Adlon

This was an incredible season of television. The show itself has never been better. This season expanded the world for Sam and her family in many interesting and engaging ways. It highlighted how the relationship between a parent and child is constantly evolving. The dynamic that Sam has with her kids is no longer the same as it was at the start of the series. The children are growing up. Their personalities may be similar but they are changing and making new decisions all the time. This was a huge year for Sam as well. She focused more on relationships and her career. It's been so fascinating to watch. Plus, she has been dealing with her own mental health. Her relationship with David may not be healthy in the slightest because she treats him as both her boyfriend and her therapist. He has no qualms over that because he is so aroused by her. That dynamic doesn't implode here. Instead, it's just something that the two of them are comfortable in. It's not the source of the drama in this finale. Instead, that comes from Frankie who is lashing out at her mother and essentially coach surfing at the homes of her various friends. This fight between mother and daughter doesn't even stem out of something major and serious. Sam is in the dark about why her daughter is acting this way. Even Frankie is unsure of just how far she plans on pushing it or if she ever wants to move back in with Sam. She sees her mother as this obnoxious woman who is constantly forcing herself into her life. At times, that is absolutely welcome and joyous. Frankie wants her family there to celebrate her big recital. And yet, she strives for her own independence even though she fundamentally understands just how crazy and depressing the world can truly be. Sam is obviously freaking out because she has no clue what's going on with her daughter. All she gets are these messages from Frankie's friends who offer her some rare sightings. That moment also proves that these kids understand that Frankie is taking things way too far. There is also just no easy way to come back from all of this. This is fundamentally hard. It's not easy to understand what's going on. That's also the point. Sam is trying to be the best mother that she can be. This entire season she has been concerned with the lingering image of her father and how she has now outlived him. She can continue to be more of an influence in her children's lives. She won't completely uproot this entire relationship while they are still young and developing in this world. David gives the very rational and reasonable advice that Sam should just focus on the two daughters who actually welcome her parenting right now. That's exactly what she does as well. It's so joyous as she gets everyone to break out to the Phineas and Ferb theme song. That is so completely random. But it's so unifying as well. It's unexpected but it highlights how everyone can relate to this rush of emotions and celebrate something that is so clearly good in their lives. Sam beams with pride seeing how Max and her friends burst with excitement while Duke also gets in on the fun.

Of course, the show has never lost sight of how the girls learned how to be weird and take things too far. Sam is the exact same way. She pushes the buttons of her closest friends and loved ones. She sees Phil forgetting her birthday as a sign of her being a terrible and self-involved parent instead of her worsening dementia. Sam delights in making fun of Rich's new young boyfriend and calling out the ridiculousness of a young parent at a restaurant. She does have a tendency to make things worse. It's why people always have complicated relationships with her. They love her and they hate her. And yet, that's just a fundamental component of life. People are allowed to carry multiple feelings towards a single person. Sam can be such an accepting and loving mother but she can also be overbearing and insane. Even when Frankie comes home, it's with the understanding that this isn't something that is going to last. She just wants a nice meal and to take a bath. That's really all that she requires from this relationship at this point in time. Max and Duke are the ones who enjoy the constant attention and appreciation from their mother. Even when Sam is playfully teasing them, they welcome it in their lives. Frankie is striving for more independence. Her actions may be completely wrong and misplaced. It's still a relatable impulse though. Sam's friends are telling her not to worry because the various updates she receives about Frankie are that she is still being responsible with her schoolwork. Her life isn't being disrupted in a major way that should concern the people who love her. It's just tough watching because both Sam and Frankie want more from this dynamic than what the other is capable of giving. That's profoundly sad and tragic. But that too is a point of life. It's about accepting what little control we may actually have over the actions of others. It still makes it meaningful and overwhelming when all three of Sam's children remember her birthday and wish to celebrate it with her. Frankie may only do so with a signed card. But even that does a strong job in summing up what their relationship currently is and how she likes knowing that her mother has survived another year. Sure, it may be terrifying to Sam because she's entering a new decade of her life. But she loves and appreciates that she has friends who support her and children who put in the effort to surprise and celebrate her. Max and Duke walk out with a cake. With that moment, Sam has officially outlived her father. In his final appearance, he asks her what she plans on doing next. The future may always be unclear. It's bound to be just as messy and complicated as ever with this family. But it also has to be full of love and acceptance no matter what comes up because this is a family who understand each other and the various ways they deal with the crazy and chaotic world.