Better Things (S02E10) “Graduation"

The Season 1 finale “Only Women Bleed” was about a rite of passage, among other things.  It was all very earnest, that finale, and showed the importance of being a woman.  Fast forward one season finale later and we have another rite of passage in the form of high school graduation.

This supposedly being the last chance at Max having some semblance of…fun before college kicks in, of course she has a list of demands.  When will she ever get this chance again, after all?  At least she’s taking the initiative.  Some folks, I imagine, probably don’t even have graduation parties.  I sure didn’t, but then again, I was the boring guy.  In Max’s case, wanting things like a keg of beer, tacos, a DJ, and an ice cream station, among other things, isn’t that big of a deal…if Max was responsible.
But she isn’t really, and given that she doesn’t even want her mother at the party- understandable, though- this already has the potential to go wrong.


But for one, it’s funny how Sam seems to be just biding her time as Max rattles off her list of demands.  Max isn’t offering to pay for any of this- she just expects it to be done.  But Sam at least has the loophole of saying that kids coming should buy their own beer.  Hey, it’s a workaround that keeps her out of trouble.

However, Max not wanting Sam to be at the party is a string of several instances in this finale where Sam is either not wanted or filled in on the details of someone else’s plan that inextricably involve her.   Sure, Sam probably wouldn’t have enjoyed herself either way, but it is her house and it wouldn’t have hurt for Max to at least extend an invitation.  Sam would’ve turned it down, sure, but at least she’d know that she was on Max’s mind.

But to learn that Max invited her father, that’s a bit too much for Sam to handle.  Sam’s had enough on her plate this season and Xander would be more of a headache.  But he’s been on the girls’ mind for so much that it means a lot for the possibility that he would be here for Max’s big day.  Sam, by comparison, just needs to vanish, but not without paying for this entire shindig.  Seems fair, right?


At the very least, this gives Sam and Phil a brief opportunity to bond when they end up watching the party from afar.   And given the state of Phil’s condition this season, it makes sense that nope, she doesn’t remember Sam’s graduation at all.  And despite not being at the party, Sam is still being the university officer that wants to break up the shenanigans when she spots older men attending the party.

How and why Max even knows older men is anyone’s guess, but at the same time, it’s possible that they’re just friends of friends.  Hell, the party isn’t supervised, so anyone is fair game.  Not that Phil minds because hey, Max is practically a grown-up anyway.  Well, given the shit that she and Frankie have been giving Sam all season, they at least like to act like they’re grown-up.

So if you’re going to act like you’re grown up, it’s no surprise when you wake up with a hangover.  First off, that Sam got a hazmat crew to disinfect and clean her entire home after a high school party seems a bit excessive, but you can never be too prepared when dealing with high schoolers.  And I love, love the fact that she’s got a homemade remedy for dealing with hangovers…and that it’s all just to fuck with Max.

As this scene played out before the big reveal, I hoped that Sam made Max bite into an onion not to help, but just mess with her, and was instantly rewarded with the realization that yes, Sam was pranking Max.  I mean, she had it coming after all the mess she caused and not like biting into an onion killed her.  No, the killing portion will come later.

It’s nice to see so many of Sam’s friends and family all in one place, if it had to be the finale.  I don’t think the house has been this busy and bustling since the party at the premiere.  Sure, there was Eulogy, but that was just Rich and Tressa in addition to Sam and the girls.


But the festivities come to a screeching halt when Sam learns that Xander is unable to attend.  It’s so sudden, and the fact that this is the instance where someone tells Sam something that she wasn’t previously involved in means that she is the one who has to break the news to Max.  In a nice callback to the premiere, we see Sam processing this news in the basement by the laundry machine.  But back then, she was giving advice and wisdom to Max.  Now, she has to deliver heartbreak.

And it’s brief, but we see Frankie’s quick reaction as she overhears Sam learning that Xander won’t be able to attend, as if she herself wanted to hold out hope that her father would come through.  But no, he’s disappointed her again and really, by episode’s end, the lack of his presence is for the best.


Nevertheless, it’s a crushing moment when Sam reveals the bad news to Max, who was looking forward to seeing her father and even got herself looking nice for this day of all days.  It is her graduation.  What would be better than having both her parents be there, even with the friction between Sam and Xander? But no, Max receives a massive disappointment and I love that this scene is allowed to breathe.

It doesn’t devolve into a screaming match between mother and daughter.  Max can process this while everyone else soon circles around her for comfort.  When they all offer to take her to Max, coupled with Max calling Sam the best mom in the world, it’s a warm moment, worthy of the development that Sam and Max have gone through between these two seasons.  And it shows that, despite her father not being around, Max has plenty of figures close in her life to lean on.


I do enjoy the moment when Max is just looking over her diploma.  After so much buildup to graduating, she finally receives it, and like walking across the stage, this is it.  All the work, blood, sweat, and tears have resulted in the completion of just one phase of the rest of your life.  There’s time to celebrate, for sure, but life has just barely started for Max and I like how we get to see her process that.  She’s already had time to party, but now she’s realizing that this is just the beginning of her journey into the real world.

It’s a nice, quiet moment where she can reflect on everything that’s led up to this point and where she goes from here.

In fact, when she goes to talk with her mother, she seems more…solemn?  Reflective?  She’s nowhere near as critical as she was before, maybe from the diploma or for how her mother and the rest of the family came through for her, but it’s a welcome change in her character that I would like to see continue as she matures.  Then again, I thought Frankie and Max would mature after “Eulogy,” but that goodwill didn’t last too long.


The season comes to an end as the family comes together for a dance number.  Now I’m not a fan of dance numbers and this one could easily have been played as cheesy or melodramatic, but no.  It’s a well choreographed sequence that makes for a great present for Max- who actually had the nerve to call out her mother in the previous scene for not giving her a gift- and excellent finish for the season.

In a season of many ups and downs for Sam, it all ends with a great ending and stellar directorial work from start to finish from Pamela Adlon.  I would certainly be up for her directing another entire season’s worth of episodes again, but whatever lies in store, we’ll all be along for the ride.  It’s been nice covering this show, even though I joined the site and started writing well into the season, but I’ve enjoyed it all the same and look forward to the next season.  See you all next time for Better Things, Season Three.