“Listen To The Roosters” could have ended there and still imparted a great sense of hope. But Sam still has one man in particular to contend with, and three young women to be a “brother” to in the present. So she has Xander over for dinner, though she doesn’t immediately tell him that she asked the girls to stay away. It was a test for Xander, and a way to prevent Max, Frankie, and Duke from being disappointed in their father yet again if he didn’t show. But he does come over, and he even has the decency to look slightly chastened when Sam tells him she’d rather take out a loan and owe the bank $60,000 than continue handing it over to him in increments. And while that’s potentially a solid dig, Sam isn’t lashing out at Xander—she is just trying to get free. Sam doesn’t want to grumble every time she has to write another check; she doesn’t want to feel the bile rise in her throat every time she thinks about the next time. With some help from her loved ones, Sam’s been metabolizing her anger and resentment all season. She decided not to let giving Xander what he thinks he “deserves” cost her anything but money. Sam is really, truly ready to move on.


Sam celebrates with a night swim with Phil and Rich, exulting in the knowledge that she can still grow, can still change—but on her own terms. All season (really, going back to last year), she’s felt a shrinking, a reduction: first, the menopause, then the decreased job opportunities and increasing problems with her hands. For too long, patriarchal norms have defined Sam’s changes as losses. As she got older, she became “no longer”; no longer “young” or “desirable” or, most devastatingly, “visible.” She might have given away a small fortune at the end, but Sam is not lacking. Adlon creates a beautiful symmetry between the pool scenes and the beach scenes, pairing shots of a beaming Sam and Rich with the girls’ frolicking. Who can say who is happier in those moments, or who has more to look forward to? They are all having the time of their lives.

Adlon takes us out with a laugh, as we see what caused Xander to look glumly at that fat check. It’s followed by a wordless coda on the beach, wherein Max, Frankie, and Duke turn and look back at someone (Sam?) or something (this chapter of their lives?).

Image for article titled Pamela Adlon creates her own healing ritual with the Better Things season finale
Screenshot: FX

It’s a potential greeting and a farewell; the end of a day at the beach or the start of night on the town. Like so many moments on Better Things, it’s tough to pin down whether it’s an entry point or a conclusion. But it is serendipitous. Not in the sense of “by chance” or “luck” (when has Sam ever lucked into anything), but in its ephemeral and undeniable joy. That’s the essence of Adlon’s show, which is right in its title: Better Things, which suggests a shifting state. There are lows—abysmal ones—but things can get better. I get it now: Adlon hasn’t been trying to capture life; that’s impossible. All she can do is reflect it, in ever more gut-wrenching, insightful, and impressive ways.


Episode grade: A

Season grade (taking into account this exceptionally beautiful finale): A

Stray observations