Better Things (S03E05) “No Limit”

When you’re a motherhood, you’re practically a bonafide superhero. But more than that, you are expected to be able to do anything and everything when an occasion rises. Sam’s life is no exception, as her daughters put a lot of expectations on her. Better Things shows us a brutal take on motherhood and the many challenges that come with it, but contrary to the title of this episode, Sam has her limits.

For much of the show, Sam has been able to manage through her brand of sarcasm and sheer willpower. Even with all of that in mind, she’s not invincible. Again, there are a lot of expectations that come with being a mother, and Better Things has done a stellar job at showcasing just how damn difficult it can be and has been for Sam. Sometimes, nay, a lot of the time, you just need to vent your frustrations.

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So it helps that we start and end this episode with a visit to the doctor. We begin with the first doctor, played by Keisuke Hoashi, and it’s the funny sort of awkward that you would expect from Better Things. When the doctor is ready to examine Sam’s nethers, Sam herself is more focused on the fact that the doctor hasn’t put on gloves yet. She’s eyeing some from far away, but the doctor has another box in front of him that’s out of Sam’s point of view. It’s a very Curb Your Enthusiasm sort of joke, I feel, where we zero in on something that’s otherwise minor.

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More than that, this episode was a fantastic showcase of dialogue. There are some vivid and colorful descriptions, such as when the doctor tells Sam that she’s degenerating and equates it to the end of a fireworks display. Sam herself even refers to her current menopause as a “monsoon of a period.” Honestly, that is one hell of a line and the point doesn’t get across any clearer than that. But it’s true: Sam may be full of life and energy, but time waits for no one.

She’s getting up there in age and won’t be able to keep up forever.

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But Sam isn’t someone that just stews in misery. She relishes that sort of challenge. After all, this diagnosis doesn’t stop her from being snarky to the employee at the go-cart track. Yes, the guy could be a little louder, but hey, if you had to spend all hours of the day explaining go-carts to customers, you’d be tired of it, too. I don’t envy the folks who work at theme parks and have to give the same sort of explanation or speech over and over again.

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This go-carting isn’t really important to the episode, though. We barely spend any time here. The key takeaway from this scene is no doubt one of the highlights of the season, and doubt a highlight for Duke in particular. See, Frankie and Duke are at odds- what else is new?- over who gets to sit in the front seat. Sam wants them to, quite frankly, cut the shit. So she gives them a full minute to say whatever they want to each other.

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They deliver in kind, but Duke gets in a string of curses that…are not unbelievable for her to know. You and I both know who she spends her time around, so of course she’d pick up some foul language. Hell, we just saw her swear when Sam came to her school. In fact, like Max having a fake ID, Duke indulging in some cursing is practically a badge of honor, and the episode treats it as such. Good on Duke.

She’s still grounded, though.

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Also, something worth noting is that while Max has indeed dropped out of college, she seems to still have an interest in photography. I don’t know if this will be further explored throughout the season, but I hope that we delve deeper into this.

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Time to leave the kids behind for some real partying. Sam heads to a fancy restaurant with a cavalcade of well-known faces, including Monica Horan, Jen Richards Rose Abdoo, Judy Reyes, and Cree Summer. Hell, you could have an entire episode based around this scene alone. The women drink up, do some cocaine, insist on having the male waiters serve them, vent about their various problems, and just have a good old time.

It might be the closest thing to actual solace that Sam has had so far this season. This is helped by the fact that she’s not at work and her daughters are nowhere to be seen. No, this is strictly Sam time.

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This works as the first of two points of catharsis that Sam gets. As you can guess, all the drinking and drugs catches up to Sam the next day. She hugs her toilet for dear life while Frankie- being Frankie- judges her for it and even wonders if her mother is pregnant. Interesting that pregnancy would be one of Frankie’s guesses. She already can’t stand Duke. Imagine if there was another girl in the Fox home. Perish the thought.

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Then we get the other point of catharsis with Sam seeing yet another doctor, this time played by Usman Ally. No examinations this time, though. Well, not a physical one. Rather, the doctor is here to get a sense of how Sam is feeling. Due to the whiplash she sustained from the crash at the go-cart track, she’s in even more pain. The high blood pressure, stress, muscle strains, and insomnia that’s left her unable to have a good night’s sleep: it’s a surprise that Sam is able to keep it together at all.

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Many would crack under pressure. Given how much Sam has on her plate, she’s managed to maintain her composure. But then Sam lets go in an emotional turn when she talks about how it’s not easy for her to, as the doctor suggests, just let things go. What she needs, above all else, is a good, full night’s sleep.

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The doctor gets right to the point and tells Sam what we already know: she’s fucked up. But like every other obstacle in her life, Sam has managed to persevere. Not necessarily with a smile on her face, but she powers through it. The doctor does suggest that Sam see a psychotherapist and that if she can stomach through for sessions, he will provide a prescription for some sleeping meds. Perhaps, with all Sam has been through, a good night’s sleep is the best thing she can get.

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Oh, and also, congrats to Better Things to being renewed for Season 4!