Sam and Max drive to Chicago to get Max set up in college and Sam has to learn how to let go of her eldest daughter before making the long trip home.
Better Things isn’t your average show – actually, I take that back. What makes Better Things so special is that it is average. Sam is an average single mother doing her best to raise her three daughters. There isn’t a real story arc, most of the episodes contain a myriad of scenes tied together loosely by common themes but without a normal A-plot, B-plot, C-plot. But that’s what makes the show so realistic and the season three premiere episode, “Chicago”, is no different.
Watching the episode, we get several scenes that progress the way a day in someone’s life might. Pamela Adlon has created a sense of intimacy and a messy, emotional, hilarious depiction of motherhood that is so uniquely her yet still universally relatable. Below I’ve listed my favorite three scenes from the season three premiere.
1. Sam and Max go to a bar.
After finally getting Max moved into a dorm room, perhaps the best bed in the worst room, the two get to spend a little time together before Sam has to head back home from Chicago.
Max decides to show her mother her fake ID and in typical Sam fashion, she’s cool with it. It means Max can come with her to a bar and listen to music on their last night together. Except when they arrive, Max immediately runs into her new roommate and gets pulled away with him and some new friends. Sam is clearly torn between wanting to keep Max to herself for a while longer and letting her go so she can flourish and start this new chapter of her life.
She settles for a big This Is Us goodbye hug and that’ll have to do for now.
2. Sam gets to know the other passengers on her plane.
Once Sam makes it on the departure flight from Chicago, she gets a chance to chat with a few of her neighboring passengers while air-bound. First there is an older man beside her who she reads private texts from accidentally-on-purpose. Apparently he was speaking with his wife, “I hope she gets the prawns.”
Next is a guy across the aisle from her who turns out to be a fan of her acting work and a woman in the window seat next to him named Debra. When things go haywire on the plane – a bunch of smoke comes out of the cabin and the pilot asks for a fire extinguisher, Sam is the one to calm Debra down. I had to laugh when she said, “Drink your wine, Debra.”
Sam is a mother and it affects everything she does, it’s in her nature to reach out to those struggling around her.
3. Sam helps Frankie with her homework.
Exhausted and confused by the strange people in her house and rattled by her mother’s random car accident (the evidence is sitting in the driveway yet Phil hasn’t a care in the world) Sam may want nothing more to sleep but she is coaxed into helping Frankie with her homework. Because Sam is the best mom around, that’s why.
Together they split-read the first act of A Raisin in the Sun and obvious parallels are drawn from the opening exposition, explaining the tiredness of the furniture and the the natural progression of wear-and-tear that occurs in every home over time. But maybe the message is that sometimes the constant shuffle of life and the physical marks it leaves behind demonstrate the difference between a poised house and a comfortable home.
Odds & Ends
- I came close to adding the opening scene where Sam and Max were shopping for the moment that Sam swiped the whole shelf of ramen into her cart. Also because I remember having a ridiculous amount of stuff brought with me to college and then barely using even half of it!
- Sam about buying bulk Plan B: “You could keep them in a bowl, like for a party. You could pass them out like candy.”
- The show feels more confident and self-assured without C.K. around. It truly is Adlon’s vehicle now.
A new episode of Better Things titled “Holding” premieres March 7th on FX.