(Photo: Jessica Brooks/FX Networks)

In the spirit of Better Things, let’s face some hard truths: dating doesn’t always get easier with practice, or even as you get older. Some of us never outgrow our insecurities; others can’t quite get over past wrongdoings to trust a new prospect. Then there are the people who never get the hang of small talk and/or OkCupid, or whatever the dating app of choice is.

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There are a lot of reasons why we’re sometimes unable to make a connection—it could be a lack of chemistry, as we saw last week in “Rising.” Sam dated Nameless Guy for three weeks, which we learned just as she was dumping him. The question of why Sam put up with him for so long if she didn’t like him was raised in the comments last week, and I wondered the same thing. She’s not a pushover—just look at how she dealt with Arturo, and any other fool who thought to cross her. But some of the things we refuse to tolerate on behalf of others, or from people who are friends or relatives, get a pass when we’re involved with someone. Sam is selective, but she is also the kind of person who makes the best of a bad or middling situation, which is why she continued to date Tril-dora. Or maybe it was just inertia; why switch things up when you’ve already found a routine?

But Better Things is about Sam’s search for something more, which is why she decided not to settle for even a minute longer. And yet, before that tirade in the parking lot, Sam was clearly going to get in Bearded Guy’s car, and probably grudgingly allow a good-night kiss. Some people might watch that and think they’d never squander even a second with someone they aren’t attracted to, or don’t find all that interesting. But the reality is—and this is something Sam may or may not want to face—you adjust your expectations as time goes on. Which poses a conundrum here, as Sam would never advise her daughters to settle; nor has she entirely, otherwise we probably would have seen her in a long-term relationship when we first met her. Being single is hard for many; being a single mom is even tougher. Some folks do what they have to do, and I’m not here to judge them.

(Photo: Jessica Brooks/FX Networks)

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This makes the arrival of Robin (Henry Thomas) in “Robin” all the more interesting. Sam is never entirely closed off to romance—despite her statement in season one that she’s “dating [her] daughters”—but neither is that one of her priorities. She ran away when presented with Dalton in the last episode, possibly because she felt it was too soon after cutting [Insert Hat Type Here] Guy loose. So when she’s forced to attend a friend’s spoken-word performance, the last thing she probably expected was to hit it off with someone else who was suckered into going.

Robin has a lot going for him and working against him, with significant overlap between these qualities. He’s also a single parent, which means he understands why Sam would put her kids first. But he’s also clearly bitter about his ex, who divorced him and left him to raise their daughter alone instead of having the decency to die, which would have been a much easier thing to explain to his daughter. Forget what David Hyde Pierce said in Sleepless In Seattle—matching up by neuroses is a bad idea.

Or at least, you think it would be, given how anxious Robin is around Sam. And his bluntness about his emotional baggage does briefly have that effect on her; she wonders just what she’s gotten herself into. But this getaway is also immediately more comfortable for Sam than the last one—once again, she runs out the door after all but telling her kids they can get their own place (except for Duke). This is after she “spends the night” with Robin, talking about something we’re not made privy to, but is interesting enough for them to keep at it until all hours. She continues to bask in the feeling the following morning, tuning out Frankie and Max’s teasing, which the viewer does hear.

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Robin’s invitation to El Civitas (help me out here, I don’t know California, but that’s what it sounded like) could go either way. But Sam’s words to Max at the DMV also apply to herself: you have to move forward. Even though Sam obviously feared losing her daughter—which is why she tolerated Arturo ever so briefly—she also knows she can’t keep her from growing up. Which is why, though Max isn’t quite regressing, Sam would rather nudge her along than let Max cling to her. “Cling” is a bit much, but she was obviously rattled by the Arturo thing. As Sam points out, most teens are dying to get their driver’s license, but Max is trying to bail before even finishing the written exam.

We so rarely get to see Billy West (left) and Tom Kenney (right), that I had to include this. (Photo: Ali Goldstein/FX Networks)

Better Things is never in danger of going maudlin, and so, despite her concern for Max, Sam refuses to coddle her. Their wordless exchange outside the DMV plays out like so many other mother-daughter confrontations before it, which might actually be a sign that Max is toughening up again. (I’m starting to think there’s an entirely wordless episode in our future, given how effectively Adlon et. al. communicate with just their faces.) And so Sam takes her own advice and decides to go away for the weekend with Robin.

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As thrilled as she is with their connection, though, Sam still wants to take things slow, which is why she pumps the brakes and suggests booking separate rooms. Robin has zero chill about this, and immediately pouts about the “ice pack to his balls,” which is something you should never say, let alone hear. If we extend the driving metaphor, he’s not reading the signs clearly: “yield” isn’t synonymous with “stop” (but I don’t have a license, so I could be wrong.)

Thankfully, he realizes the error of his ways before the episode wraps. And though his friends would probably try to talk him out of plainly stating he likes Sam, or tell him it’s decidedly less sexy to own up to being fucked up, he chucks those rules of the road aside, and opens up to Sam. Pamela Adlon and Louis CK also co-wrote this episode, so the conversation plays out like something we might have seen on Louie, right down to the bathroom intermission. Because we want things to work out for Sam, we’re hoping that Robin is at least a halfway decent guy. It’s a surprisingly suspenseful setup; it’s not until Sam excuses herself to go to the bathroom that you notice the tension in your shoulders. But Better Things is, hence Sam’s “release.”

We don’t really know if this will go anywhere (although we have a clue), but just the fact that Sam (and Robin) got this far is a heartening sign of progress.

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Stray observations

  • I want Pam Adlon’s reading of that “Bitch, I’m goin’ to the moon” line for a ringtone.
  • Adlon’s direction is on point once again; she may not realize it, but these episodes double as great tourism ads.
  • I’m still slightly confused by that bee-flower situation. People sniff flowers; did she want to be stung by a bee?
  • “I like to eat all the cute animals.”
  • For more on Robin and Sam, check out this post-mortem interview I did with Henry Thomas.

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