Better Things (S03E04) “Monsters in the Moonlight”

Better Things often feels like a day in the life of Pamela Adlon. I can’t say that for sure because I don’t know what Adlon’s personal life is like, but I can’t imagine that being a single mother with three kids on top of maintaining a career as an actor comes easy. So again, without any basis, I’m guessing there’s some layers of truth to when we go through Sam’s adventures from week to week.

After last week’s dinner episode, “Monsters in the Moonlight” does keep focus on the family for a bit, but brings us back to the film set to follow-up on the many troubles that plague the actors.

Monsters in the Moonlight Sam dreams about sex with Xander 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

But we’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s talk about sex! Or rather, dream sex, or a lack thereof. See, not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times a lady does Sam find herself dreaming about sex with Xander. For one, I was surprised this happened four times. For rule of thumb, when things happen in succession, they tend to occur in threes. Sometimes you may get a fourth or fifth, just to screw around with the structure, but the fact that Sam had a fourth dream made the sequence funnier.

She’s not getting any satisfaction anywhere. There’s solace in being there for her daughters, sure, but when they’re all such a pain in the ass, that joy can only go so far. Sam needs excitement and relief from elsewhere, and she’s certainly not going to get it from Xander.

Monsters in the Moonlight Sam teaches Frankie how to drive 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

So if Sam is going to be frustrated in bed, hopefully her day will be better, right? Nein. With Max gone, Sam is left with Frankie and Duke. You’d think one less daughter would alleviate any stress…oh, who the hell am I kidding? If anything, it’s just as bad. See, Sam attempts to teach Frankie to drive, but she’s not very good at it. Go figure. But hey, I wasn’t the best when I first got behind the wheel during those long weekends of practice, so I’m in no position to judge.

For all of the back and forth that Sam has with the girls, it’s nice to see her actually preparing them for something they will need to learn how to do. Sure, in the age of Uber and Lyft, I’m sure that many see no reason to drive or even own a car, but it’s a useful and downright necessary skill to have. Plus, you’ll need to get your driver’s license eventually, or maybe a passport…some form of identification.

Monsters in the Moonlight Duke wants to drive 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

But back on topic, Sam is teaching Frankie how to drive. For whatever reason, Duke is jealous. Duke is a little-ass girl who has no business being behind the wheel unless she’s driving a bike. Or a scooter. She gives Sam this nasty glare and demands that she also get to practice…for whatever reason. Plus, she threatens to report Sam. To the police. Good luck with that. I would say that the phone is giving Duke a bit of an attitude problem, but I can’t blame it on that for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.

Monsters in the Moonlight Sam lets Duke practice driving 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

Regardless, Sam ultimately relents and lets Duke get behind the wheel, much to Frankie’s chagrin. After all, this was her time, and now Duke has again encroached upon her territory. I get where Frankie’s coming from, in that the younger sibling always seems to get what they want. Plus, Sam lets Duke practice with some donuts! Now I never got to try this, nor would I have been bold enough to do so.

Plus, I can’t assume how your driving lessons went, but I will venture as to guess that your first time behind the wheel didn’t involve doing donuts in a parking lot. This leans on reckless, but it is played for laughs, so I can’t really get on Sam’s case that much.

Monsters in the Moonlight Duke tells Sam that her father was supposed to Facetime her 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

Now I mentioned Duke’s phone because it turns out that Sam knew about it all along, even after Frankie admitted that Duke had one. But Duke doesn’t have it anymore- she lost it. She figured that if she lost it, she wouldn’t get in trouble. After all, her father was supposed to Facetime with her, but he never did, and that upset Duke. Like most kids, she grew tired of waiting. Given what we know about Xander, I can’t blame her.

Sure, Sam tries to soothe Duke by telling her that her father gets busy a lot, but this hardly helps.

Monsters in the Moonlight Max is back at home 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

Then we get some follow-up from last time. Max mentioned to her mother that she might finish her current semester. Well, looks like that hesitation was literal, because she shows up out of the blue, having dropped out during her first semester.

Monsters in the Moonlight Sam asks Max if she wants something to eat 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

Look, I know that Sam ultimately accepts Max being back, and Max is, such as it is, an adult, but…fuck off, Max! Going to university is a huge decision that, as Sam points out, takes a lot of time, effort, and- most importantly to parents- money! You don’t get to just throw that away without a game plan. Sure, many people do, but Max isn’t ‘many people.’ Her flippant response about living out of a van seems to show that she’s adamant and resolute in her decision.

Yes, she technically didn’t have to consult her mother on dropping out, but after all the work put into preparing her for this moment, the dinner, the ‘This Is Us’ hug, all that is now out the window. This part of the episode legitimately frustrates me because it seems like Max has no real plan or aspirations. What are her goals? What does she want to be? Is she intending to just live at home? She said that she doesn’t want to waste her life, but what the hell does she expect to do now?

Monsters in the Moonlight Sam gets ready for a stunt 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

I’m spending more time on this than I need to, so let’s get back to the film set. It’s strange. This film set is hot, people are irritated, and it’s just not a great place to be. But Sam probably has more of a semblance of peace here than she does in her own home. At least she gets paid to do this.

Monsters in the Moonlight Stunt goes wrong 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

But Sam is, as you know, an actor, and actors go through very dangerous things when filming. Such is the case with this scene involving Sam and other actors in a car that is not a stunt car. It doesn’t go well, as two of the actors end up vomiting when the scene is done. There are plenty of real life parallels to this and this is, turns out, based on something that happened in Pamela Adlon’s life.

Here I thought this was based on the stunt that Uma Thurman underwent during the filming of the Kill Bill films. It is similar, but no, it’s from Adlon’s own experiences.

Monsters in the Moonlight Sam chastises the film crew 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

Anyway, after more talk with her ghost father, Sam goes to the director and essentially reams everyone out for the lack of…well, standards on set, not the least of which includes there being only one bathroom. There was no safety meeting, and in essence, shit is crazy. Sure, few, if any, come to Sam’s aid, but at least she was able to vent her frustration and point out that hey, this is a job. The people are here to be cared for, not shit on.

Monsters in the Moonlight Sam lays into female crew member 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

She even gets to lay into the one female crewmember who seems to be all about ‘Rah rah, girl power,’ but Sam sees through her bullshit. She calls her out for essentially trying to suck up to the men around her for her own gain. Sam isn’t like that. She just wants to get shit done, no strings attached.

Monsters in the Moonlight Sam talks with the producer 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

Hopefully that ends up being the case with this producer and newfound friend of hers. Tressa warned Sam about her, but from the the way that the two talk, coupled with the producer saying how she’s attracted to drama and openly talks about her proud lesbianism, the two spark an instant kinship. Whether it evolves beyond a friendship is anyone’s guess.

Monsters in the Moonlight Sam masturbates in her car 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E04) "Monsters in the Moonlight"

But when Sam is finally able to get herself off- not through dreams of her husband, but through memories of the conversation she just had with the producer- it’s probably the happiest moment she’s had in the entire episode.