(Photo: Beth Dubber/FX Networks)

Leading by example is not Sam Fox’s style. She’d have to be a paragon of virtue for that, and she is decidedly not. She has flaws—many, many flaws—and what’s more is, she doesn’t hide them from her kids. She doesn’t pretend to be unflappable or unerring. Sam lets them see her sweat and fail, lets them know how irritating their constant need for attention or help can be. In the hands of another parent, say, Phil, this might be a ploy to send them on a guilt trip. But Sam is just being honest about being, well, human. Some of her problems are specific to being a woman, like being socially conditioned to be uncomplaining, so much so that your own pleasure isn’t a priority when you have sex. Others, like needing a break, are universal. Except that, again, women are taught to be self-sacrificing, which is why you feel so guilty about having a weekend to yourself that you might imagine just running back to your kids. And that’s just a regular old weekend, not even a three-day one.

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Maybe Sam really is just having a bad time in Santa Monica in “Rising.” It’s possible that the Champagne on the private jet didn’t sit well, or that the air smells funny, or that something else is just off. We don’t know what the issue is with the fix-up guy, known only as Dalton—we never get to see or hear him. He’s just a tall, nondescript shape (I think I spied dark hair) at what looks like a white party (as in the wardrobe, but now that you mention it, Santa Monica…). But whatever it is, it would send Sam packing if she’d ever gotten to that point. Instead, she pulls a 180 and leaves the party to go to a beachside motel, where she prepares to camp out with a fruit cup and a bottle of wine.

Sam could try to make the most of the time alone, but it’s clear that she just wants to be home again. So she packs up again, picks up a rental car, then drives around LA scooping up her children again to head right back to the beach, where they create picture-perfect memories. Everything from the ladybug on the hand to the walking hand in hand with Frankie looks like it came right out of a home movie. And when you watch that play out, with very few words save the lyrics of Corinna Repp’s song that lends the episode its title, you immediately feel that Sam made the right choice.

But then “Rising” shakes things up by revealing that that blissful day at the beach was just a fantasy. The song is still playing, but Sam is still at the motel, her expression indecipherable. Is she frustrated with herself for being unable to just let loose with her friends and enjoy her all-too-short break? Did she conjure that idyllic scene because she feels guilty for going on that break despite having recently patched things up with Max? Can you ever really tear yourself away from parenting?

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(Photo: Jessica Brooks/FX Networks)

It’ll be a while before Sam is hit with empty nest anxiety, so for now, it looks like she’s dealing with some separation anxiety. But Adlon and Louis CK, who wrote the episode, leave that open to interpretation. This open-ended second half is preceded by a string of opening scenes that are almost gritty in comparison, and which contain the majority of the episode’s dialogue. It almost feels like the episode happens in reverse, beginning with sex and wrapping with a fantasy. We learn that Sam prefers to get the sex out of the way before the actual date, this way she doesn’t have to worry about going through the motions after she’s already expended so much energy pretending she’s more into this guy—whose name I did not pick up once, so feel free to clue me in—than she really is. Which is why she blows her top when he complains that she needs to tell him how she feels, because he can’t guess.

Now, it’s always a bad sign when you can’t gauge how someone feels about you; I know, sometimes people play games, sometimes you’re just dense, etc. But more often than not, we have a good idea of how much someone cares, and then we decide for ourselves to either make up for the deficit or let the other person do the heavy lifting. (Then there are well-adjusted people who decide to walk away entirely.) Sam’s only been dating Classic Car Guy for three weeks, so maybe he really didn’t know just how low her interest was in him. He complains that she’s closed off. But when she finally does make it clear—and how—her openness angers him.

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This first third (quarter?) of the episode has a lot to say about modern romance and labels, but there’s just so much about gender dynamics, too-nice women, and the dread Nice Guy. Fedora-Or-Trilby Guy is so self-congratulatory about being average, that of course he asks Sam if she came despite probably just thrusting away missionary style for less than 15 minutes. I reflexively felt bad for the guy when she swore up and down that they weren’t dating to the couple they met at the bar, but how much of that is deserved, and how much of it is just ingrained by now? He snipes that he wants “basic consideration” and “common courtesy,” but as Sam points out, that’s not accurate. He wants to be lied to about how things are going, because that’s preferable to dealing with falling short.

But Sam just doesn’t want to do it anymore. She doesn’t want to be tasked with looking after his ego. That would be, you know, awkward. That might upset him. But as she delivers cutting line after cutting line, things actually become less uncomfortable. Even Fedora-Or-Trilby starts to open up, even if it means facing up to something he’s not ready to admit (that fedoras and/or trilbies are stupid). As Sam’s anger grows, it becomes righteous—when she’s shouting in that parking lot, she’s giving a voice to all the women who couch valid criticism or otherwise keep it to themselves. Maybe he didn’t deserve the full brunt of her vented spleen. Maybe the “boos” were enough. Then again, he was “no fun.”

Stray observations

  • As I noted, Louis CK wrote this episode, which includes a line about how weird it would be to see Bill Cosby and David Bowie hang out together, presumably because of the sexual misconduct allegations against both. I Love You, Daddy touches on similar reports, except as they pertain to Woody Allen. Talk about awkward.
  • “Do you guys have kids?” “No, not yet.” “Yeah, don’t do that.”
  • “Please don’t ask questions like that. There are no good answers to that. The only answers are lies and bad news.”
  • There’s nothing to add to Phil Files today, other than to note that Duke might have been reading too much into her request to “remember [her] always.”

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