Better Things (S03E02) “Holding”

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Sam inhabits two worlds. The world of being an actor, and the world of being a mother. More often than not, the two come into conflict. Either that or the impact in one scenario has an effect on the other.

In the case of this week’s episode, “Holding,” we’ve got a heat wave that gets in the way of a movie shoot. But the suffering of the actors involved doesn’t matter for the director or his, I’m assuming, assistant.

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From the beginning, Adlon recreates the agony that is having to deal with extreme heat. Her thermostat turns out to be broken. So between her deciding to forego the covers, placing her face dead center in front of fans, or eating food while standing and having her pants around her ankles- no shame at all here- Sam is burning up. There’s some great juxtaposition between Sam’s agony, and a transformation sequence in An American Werewolf in London, to further sell just how damn hot it is.

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It’s a real scorcher for the film that Sam is working on alongside Doug Jones (whose face we don’t see, but you can definitely recognize his voice under all that makeup). It’s another “fun” day in the life of Sam as an actress, but none of the production assistants are of any real help.

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At one point, Sam is told by the director to think about her family. She doesn’t have to go far to get away from them, because it turns out that Max is allergic to vinyl. I like that we’re still checking in on Max. I figured that with her going to college her role would slowly be phased out, or she’d just have reduced time until something like a holiday break.

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Sticking with family, we get a quick scene of Duke receiving a package in the mail: it’s a phone from her father. But not just any phone- a flip-phone. I know that there are some people who still have those, but it’s very strange for a father to send his daughter a flip-phone instead of a smartphone. It’s convenient that Sam isn’t home when this package arrives because if Frankie hadn’t gotten it, Duke probably wouldn’t have known about the phone in the first place. After all, Dad says in the letter to not tell her mother. Clearly, he doesn’t want her finding out. In that regard, I’m just waiting for the moment when Sam does find out.

Holding Sam meets Sylvester 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E02) "Holding"

The most poignant and best scene in the episode comes in Sam’s conversation with a man named Sylvester. He is living in a home pretty much next to where the film is being shot. Sylvester is a kind old gentleman, as he talks about his wife with a real fondness in his voice. He tells Sam about how he and his wife ran marathons, practiced law, and how they joked about how the only race that Sylvester would beat his wife in, was to the grave.

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At one point, he says -what is for my money the most memorable line of the episode-

“You don’t get to choose what you’re good at.”

There’s a lot of truth to that, and it’s very applicable to Sam, both in her professional and personal life.  I like that we get a quiet scene between these two. As is per normal with the show, it’s not entirely devoid of humor. We see the various odd paintings that Sylvester’s wife did. Plus, he’s aware that she would come back to life and kick his ass if she found out he tried to give away her art. At least he knows that much. Sam tells Sylvester that he’s a lucky widower. He has all of these memories and a lifetime to remember, while most people can’t string together two years.

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(I’d comment on the rest of the film shoot stuff, but it’s really not important.)

The second half of the episode involves Sam paying a visit to Duke’s school for Science Night. When Sam and Duke arrive, they’re immediately cut off by a car that’s driven by the mother of another student named Jack, who has apparently been bullying Duke. That’s not really the important part. The important part is that Jack’s mother is played by none other than Artemis Pebdani from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. This is as close as I’ll ever get to a Better Things/Always Sunny crossover.

Anyway, Sam, already heated from the shoot, is in a foul mood and being at this school event doesn’t help. Duke remains relatively low key. She doesn’t want her mother to make things worse and escalate the situation. To be fair, if your parent showed up at your school, you probably wouldn’t want them to cause a fuss, either.

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Jack and Duke are apparently friends. She tells Sam that Jack did the mean thing to her, not her mother, so she’s over it. That’s surprisingly mature of her. But Sam is still left to her devices when Duke wants to be with her friends…and Duke’s got a bit of a potty mouth going on, too. I mean, it’s just one use of “Fuck,” but the girl is growing up. This isn’t Season 1 Duke anymore. Personally, I blame the cell phone. Also, one of the parents notes that it’s apparently okay for Duke to get a fade, but his daughter can’t dress a certain way. Well, when you look at what she’s wearing…

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You be the judge.

Holding Sam confronts Artemis 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E02) "Holding"

Anyway, Sam does end up making a show when she confronts Artemis-screw it, I’m just calling her Artemis. She wants the two of them to step outside so they can fight on the playground. It’s the battlefield where all conflicts are resolved, you know? Artemis refuses, so Sam ends up pulling on her. When Artemis pulls back, she ends up accidentally backhanding her son in the process. So…justice is served, I guess? It’s accidental and somewhat humorous to see, but then the episode just sort of ends. I wouldn’t call it abrupt since this is something that both Better Things and Louie have done.

All in all, “Holding” is a solid, quick watch. I can’t really say whether one half of the episode is better than the other since they both have their strong points, but  Sam’s conversation with Sylvester was a real highlight for sure.