Closure is a tricky thing. The first season of Better Things picked up well after Sam and Xander’s divorce, diving right into her single-mom life. But Xander’s always been at the back of her mind, just like he’s in the periphery of his kids’ lives. The reasons for their split haven’t really been explored, but in his few moments onscreen Xander has come across as a self-absorbed dick. So it could have been a personality clash, or maybe he just decided he didn’t want a family. Even when he’s been in town for an extended stay—like in the first season—he’s weaseled his way out of any real obligation to his kids. He told Sam, a working mother, that he was too busy to make time to see them.
Yet when Xander dropped by early on this season, it was mostly without incident, right up until Sam shut the door in his face. That moment certainly felt like closure (it had the right sound effect, anyway), but when you’re required to stay in touch with your ex because your kids still want something to do with him, you might not ever actually get it. And so that door isn’t really shut.
There are actually a few doors in Sam’s life that have been left slightly ajar. She’s never fully cut off her hookup guy (he doesn’t have a name, what do you want me to do?), and as we learn in “Blackout,” she basically ghosted on Robin. These are very different situations, though—with Sex Dude, there isn’t much of anything to end. But botched intro aside, it was obvious that Sam connected with Robin. We saw it when she was lying in bed thinking of him, or when she heard brass horns on her way to meet him for dinner later (okay, so that was the soundtrack, but you get it). She made herself physically ill thinking about how suited they are, so naturally, she had to curb him ASAP. Well, not naturally. We don’t yet know what exactly changed Sam’s mind. But after “Blackout,” we do know that she was the one who withdrew and he’s not over her.
So many emotions hit Sam when she runs into Robin and his daughter Mia at the hardware store, and they all play out on the most expressive face on TV today. Seriously, I know Pamela Adlon will keep doing voice work (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong or “lesser than” about it, especially not when she gave us Bobby Hill), but whether or not she intended to, she has made an exceptional case for leading her own series. (Which makes me all the gladder that Better Things has already been renewed for a third season.)
Robin’s the one looking for closure here, because although Sam hasn’t moved on, she has quietly taken him out of the running. But instead of giving her some big “fuck you for fucking off” speech, he just tells her he misses her and it sucks not being with her. Because this poignant little exchange plays out in a fairly straightforward manner, but what comes next is full of twists and turns and those little truths that Better Things is so good at exposing. There’s a minefield of things you should and shouldn’t say or do, and though Sam rightly blows up Jeff’s illusions, the damage is actually pretty contained.
Just like Sam was temporarily lulled by Xander’s halfway decent act earlier this season, she’s also briefly sold on the new Jeff, Sunny’s “loser ex-husband” who nonetheless still looks after her home. Their trip to the hardware store takes on a more romantic tone just before the end of the episode, with the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love?” playing in the background as Jeff compliments Sam. There is something genuinely sweet about him telling her to “give yourself some of the same understanding” she’s shown him. Everyone else cut him out of their lives after he ruined his marriage to Sunny, but not Sam.
There are all kinds of signs sprinkled throughout the episode that point to something happening between Sam and Jeff, from Sorrow and Duke’s expressions to his grin when she says she’d rather show him her pussy than open up about her divorce. It’s in the relaxed manner they share, and the surprisingly intimate experience of picking out a generator. It’s so easy to fall into an old pattern because it’s familiar, and even though Sam and Jeff were never together before, their lived-in friendship (and the fact that they’re attractive, lonely people) has them entertaining the thought of it turning into something more.
This is mostly on Jeff’s behalf because, as we learn, he is still very much a dick. He finds her emotionally wobbly after seeing Robin, and he takes advantage of the situation. Oh, he makes a good case for why they should try to make themselves feel better, but quickly falls back into his default dick position. There’s a reason why things didn’t work out with Sunny, and it might have something to do with Jeff being the kind of guy who says “taste my dick.” But Sam changes gears before it’s too late, and her rejection is hilariously emphatic. The crescendo of no’s, the changing inflections on “Jeff,” and the hand over his mouth all make for another momentous rejection. She isn’t chewing Jeff out in front of a parking lot of strangers, but it’s almost as cathartic. And it shows further growth on Sam’s part—she might not quite know how to move forward, but she’s getting better at not stumbling backwards.
- Henry Thomas wasn’t around very much, but he was both so sweet and jittery throughout—the perfect example of newfound feelings. If Robin’s gone for good, it’s really too bad.
- I laughed so much watching Sam shut Jeff down that I lost track of all those no’s, but I’m going to ballpark them at 50?
- Sam telling her kids to quit sneaking candles into the bathroom for their “crying in the tub” time hit a little too close to home. It’s not just teenage girls who do this.