Monday, March 28, 2022

REVIEW: 'Better Things' - A Directing Job Proves Exhausting for Sam While Max Is Tasked With Parenting Duke in 'San Francisco'

FX's Better Things - Episode 5.06 "San Francisco"

Sam goes to San Francisco for a job while Max holds down the fort.

"San Francisco" was written by R. Eric Thomas & Joe Hortua and directed by Pamela Adlon

Ron was thrilled by the prospect of Sam coming to direct his new television show. She took this opportunity because she turned down work elsewhere. That was such a strange and alienating feeling for her. She thought she was tempting fate by acting as if she didn't need to continually work. She turned down one job. The requirements where simply too high for her. She couldn't be away from her family for months. It's stressful even when she is gone for a week. Sam is still thrilled by the work. She wants to make this transition to directing. She has pulled great things out of others. It can be an arduous and stressful job. However, Sam has a knack for connecting with people and helping them relate to the material at the center of the project. Of course, this job is different. She comes into an established show and is meant to deliver a product that is already known. She has to play within certain rules. It's a great opportunity for her. It's still not the most inspiring. It's tedious. She questions whether her friends in the business still like her. Any potential reaction may spiral into something bigger. She knows the demands of being a child actor. The landscape has changed though. More protections are present on set. She doesn't always handle change in the best way. She's annoyed when her assistant director tells her she has to smoke further away. She doesn't want to be inconvenienced in any way. Moreover, it's not a concept about safety. It's simply the smug superiority of this man who doesn't treat her as a professional because she's a woman above him. This probably isn't the best set for him to be on given the desire to hire women directors exclusively. That too was a compelling component for Ron to pursue this work. He and Sam can reminisce about all the times they have previously worked together. It all blurs after awhile. It's hard for them not to be jaded and always have the same assumptions about the other. For a moment, Ron questions Sam's ability to give him a note. It's unfair. It comes from a tiring and exhausting day. Sam hopes she delivers a good product. It all feels like a job. All that context will be apparent later on. Right now, it's simply a strange situation where she has support and authority while also feeling like she doesn't quite offer the experience to challenge anything. She doesn't believe she belongs. This job isn't for her. She has to be comforted and explained why she is perfect for the role. That job shouldn't be put on the writer of color. She doesn't have to make Sam feel good about the work. That's what is expected.

When Sam is done with the shoot, she hopes to celebrate with a drink. One is delivered to her. The pan to Phil being the one who sent it is one of the funniest moments of the season so far. When Phil heard about Sam's job, she was immediately obsessed with the idea of a return visit to San Francisco. She asserted she could do it without her daughter's support or permission. She could take care of herself. Sam felt her mother was invading her life to such an extreme. It was annoying. She went too far. Phil agreed. And then, she still shows up. Sam is so frustrated. She doesn't even want to enjoy the drink specifically made for her. Phil knows her daughter so well. She knows she will eventually come over and accept the reality of the situation. She will have to endure the story of what Phil has been doing throughout this week. Phil is smug about it. Sam is vexed by her mother. She still walks over. That was always a guarantee. Meanwhile, Sam's children are more than capable of taking care of themselves. Max really only has to serve as a parent to Duke. She has had experience with that before. It has always just been in moments. Their bond has always been defined as sisters. They could confide in each other no matter what. Here, Max has to step up and be the parental figure Duke needs right now. Her younger sibling is lashing out and not acting like herself. She is making foolish decisions. She is becoming disgruntled by the world. That has consequences for those around her. Max's shoes are ruined because Duke doesn't want to pick up dog poop. The house is so chaotic without Sam keeping it in order. She is always trusted with that responsibility. That makes it infuriating whenever someone comes in and judges the way she has organized her life. She trusts Max can handle this responsibility. She still worries. Max recognizes the struggle of being a parent. She previously decided she wasn't ready to take on that role herself. She had the insight to know better. And now, she has to convince Duke that vaping is dangerous to her health. She too has to be responsible from time to time. Yes, Max knows what it's like to be 13-years-old with Sam as a mother. And yet, Duke is the only person with the perspective of what this particular moment is like for her. She has to reckon with all the world entails. Sam and Max hope to keep her on the right track. It's hard to connect with that path with any certainty. It's simply hoping for the best and trusting in one's instincts. Sam can see her influence in her children. That's reassuring. She always worries about all of them though. That's the nature of her life as a mother even though she is so much more as well.