Better Things (S03E12) “Shake the Cocktail” Season Finale


More like shake the tree and see what falls, am I right? …no, wait, that’s Animal Crossing. Anyway, let’s talk about Better Things.

This season has felt like a natural evolution, for both the show and story being presented here. It mirrors how we began the season and goes against how I expected this season to turn out. At least, in regards to who we’re left with at season’s end. Much of this season has been a battle for Sam, whether it’s the never-ending challenges with her daughters, her career, and life in general just kicking her ass from episode to episode. But as we’ve seen throughout the season, Sam is not one to let life get the best of her.

She’s a fighter. In a sense, she’s passed that rebellious spirit onto her daughters. For better or worse, despite how much the girls challenge Sam, there’s still the sense that they’ll be alright in the end. They’ll still give her hell, but when the dust settles, Sam is and always will be proud of them.

In a way, this is sort of a direct follow-up to “Get Lit,” but it also serves as a spiritual successor to last year’s season finale, “Graduation.” Back then, it was a coming-of-age tale for Max, who had just gone through her high school graduation and received the present of a lifetime when Sam, Frankie, Duke, and Phil performed a dance routine for her.

In the end, yes, Max dropped out and she’s getting into photography, but this year, it’s Frankie’s turn to grow up. Both her and Sam grow up in this finale. Despite their differences, the two, for a moment, seem to be on the same wavelength. But we’ll get to that later.

Frankie’s demeanor towards Sam has been more standoffish than usual, but if “Get Lit” was any indication, it’s that she can mellow out and just be a regular, chill kid. Plus, again, it’s worth noting that we often do see Max or Duke interacting with their circle of friends. We don’t get that as much with Frankie, but when we finally do, we see her in an entirely different light. Not completely, as she does still fall back into being an asshole, but it’s good to know that she can dial back the angst.

Shake the Cocktail Sam checks Frankies location 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

What she can’t dial back, though, is the desire to be as far away from her mother as possible. The first half of this episode involves Sam trying to keep an eye on Frankie, who is nowhere to be seen. She’s using some sort of app that, I guess, allows her to keep track of her location. Sort of reminds me of how you can track when your Lyft ride is about to arrive.

This wouldn’t be an issue if it was just a day or two, I’m sure, but Frankie hasn’t texted Sam in eight days. She’s been in contact with Duke and Max, but not her mother. Like last time when Sam tried to congratulate her, Frankie just, at times, gives Sam the cold shoulder. What’s interesting about this dynamic compared to, say, Sam and Duke, is that Sam isn’t attempting to smother Frankie. She gives the girl her space, but the moment she tries to come in, Frankie swats her away like a common house fly.

Shake the Cocktail Rich has lunch with Sam 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

But Sam is facing a bit of resistance elsewhere, too. We haven’t seen much of Diedrich Bader this season on Better Things and his presence was missed- especially after seeing him pop up on the final season of Veep– but we do get Rich in the season finale. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as Rich and Sam’s relationship reaches a new point.

Shake the Cocktail Sam has lunch with Rich 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

As with the girls’ night out, Sam is hoping to spend some time just with the other party involved. It starts off well enough, with Sam and Rich noticing the annoying-ass parent and their equally loud-ass kid at the restaurant. Full-stop, don’t you hate when that happens? The kid is being a loud, little shit, but the parent only encourages or ignores it. Okay, admittedly, I’m in no position to judge because I don’t have kids, and thank the heavens for that.

Still, other people are trying to enjoy themselves. The cry of a child can easily ruin that.

Shake the Cocktail Rich watches a video on his phone 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

Staying on topic, though, Rich is distracted because he’s busy texting his boyfriend, Alan. He’s also not particularly worried about Frankie because, as Sam knows, she’s self-sufficient and can handle herself. True, though I guess Sam wishes that Rich would share her concern when, again, there’s no need.

The bigger issue here is that Rich doesn’t seem to be focusing all of his attention on Sam. Not that Sam is trying to be the center of attention. She’s not vain at all. But she would at least like him to focus and not look at his phone so often. Tell me how many times you’ve heard or said that to a companion when you’re out.

As evidenced by how little we’ve seen him, Rich and Sam have been spending less and less time with one another. We at least saw some of Tressa, and we didn’t see Macy at all. Though with Macy, I imagine part of that has to do with Lucy White playing a role on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. With Rich, though, it’s like Alan is in competition with Sam for Rich’s attention, but Rich doesn’t see it that way. He loves his boyfriend and he would expect Sam to understand that he’s going to spend a lot of time with him.

Shake the Cocktail Richs boyfriend shows up for lunch 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

Now granted, Rich inviting Alan to the lunch could be a bit of a sticky issue. After all, Sam had hoped to spend time with Rich. At the same time, there’s no reason why Rich can’t invite his boyfriend. In his mind, it’s like Sam wants him to remain single for as long as possible. At this point, when Alan shows up, Sam decides to bow out. Things end on an ugly note, but in typical Better Things fashion, we don’t completely end on a downer. After all, Sam tells the aforementioned mother that she sucks. It’s true. She does.

Shake the Cocktail Frankies tutor tells Sam where Frankie is studying 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

Frankie’s tutor shows up at Sam’s home and brings Sam up to speed on the middle daughter. Seems the reason Frankie hasn’t been in touch is because she’s been busy with her work. She’s even pulling in all As. Given what we found out last week about Frankie skipping a grade and heading straight to high school, this makes sense. The tutor mentions that, like Frankie, she put her parents through hell, but it helped her appreciate her mother even more.

Shake the Cocktail Sam meets Frankie and her friends when they are studying 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

Sam is meant to keep this information under her hat if she wore one, but she eventually shows up at the spot where Frankie, her friends, and the tutor are doing math. I get it. Mom just wants to make sure her daughter is doing well. But this goes no different than any other interaction Frankie has had with Sam. Despite her mother showing up with chili, Frankie doesn’t want it.

Shake the Cocktail One of Frankies friends tells Sam that Frankie is staying with her 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

More than that, when one of Frankie’s friends goes to Sam to tell her that Frankie is staying with her, Frankie tells Sam to stop talking to her friend. She even goes as far as calling Sam needy which, okay, wow. Frankie just keeps jabbing and jabbing at Sam. Teenage angst, sure, but Sam didn’t have to show up for Frankie. She’s being a supportive mother. At least take the damn chili, Frankie!

Shake the Cocktail Sam talks with David about Frankie 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

We get Matthew Broderick back for the season finale in a brief scene between David and Sam. Sam says that Frankie is torturing her, which isn’t completely wrong. David, like Rich, points out that Frankie is completely capable of handling herself. Plus, what’s the worst that could happen?

Shake the Cocktail Frankie makes a friend 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

Admittedly, consider the first time we saw Frankie in this episode. She’s talking with what I’m guessing is a homeless person about what’s going on in the world, and the friend brings up that there was a school shooting in Colorado. In this current climate, though, they’d have to be a bit more specific.

Still, Sam has a right to be concerned about Frankie getting mugged or trafficked or, God forbid, killed. All things considered, though, the neighborhood Sam lives in doesn’t seem too bad. It’s a quick, sweet moment between the two made all the better with David’s impression of John Lithgow. But Frankie ends up pausing her location so Sam can’t track her.

Shake the Cocktail Singing the theme to Phineas and Ferb 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

Then we get…a moment. Sam isn’t exactly feeling down in the dumps. In fact, she’s back at home. While she’s at work, an episode of Phineas and Ferb starts. Sam then goes up to Max’s room and starts up the song. Max and her friends, in turn, start singing the theme. Duke even joins in. It’s a fun scene that allows Sam and her family to unwind for a bit. For all the stressful moments, this was a necessary breather.

I mean, I would’ve gone with the theme to something like the new Ducktales, but whatever. I guess you can’t really go wrong with Phineas and Ferb. That Max, at her age, would even be into singing the theme is astounding, but hey, we all probably remember theme songs from cartoons we watched in our youth.

Shake the Cocktail Sam learns that Phil wont make it to Frankies performance 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

Back to the plot. Sam and Duke are headed to Frankie’s performance, but Phil is not. She’s with Walter and isn’t about to leave right now. Despite the importance of Frankie’s upcoming show, Phil already has plans. It’s a letdown, but this does tie back to “Easter” in that Sam tells Duke that she will never forget anything she has planned. Marion told Duke that, for all of Sam’s flaws, she’s there. In this instance, that can’t be said for Phil.

Shake the Cocktail Sam and Rich make amends 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

Either way, Rich also shows up, as he and Sam make amends. Again, a nice, emotional moment between them that shows how far their bond has grown, but also that despite their brief spat, they’re still going to have each other’s backs.

Shake the Cocktail Frankies performance 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

As for the performance, like the beat poetry from last episode, it’s another showcase of Frankie’s ability as a performer. Plus, it’s an entirely different side to her compared to what we’ve seen when she’s around Sam. Despite how asshole-ish she is, Frankie shows real promise as she continues to grow.

Shake the Cocktail Frankie tells her mother that shes not staying 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

That comes sooner that you might expect, as we come to a close at the Fox home. Frankie shows up to tell her mother that she’s not staying. We don’t know where she’s going or who she’ll be staying with, but she won’t be at the Fox home anymore…at least after she’s done using Sam’s tub one more time.

Shake the Cocktail Sam learns that Frankie is leaving 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

What started off as a season with Sam sending Max off to college ends with Frankie deciding of her own volition to move out. It’s a huge change to the dynamic of the Fox family and for Sam in particular. She’s just seeing this other side to Frankie, but before she can possibly learn more, Frankie decides that it’s time for her to go.

A bold change, to be sure, but like Max, I’m certain that we’ll see Frankie again. Granted, I don’t expect Frankie to walk this back, like Max did with dropping out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Frankie still frequently appeared.

As is, though, the Fox household will soon be minus one daughter as Frankie prepares to move on. Before doing so, though, she does give Sam a card for her birthday. Something I forgot to mention, by the way, is that it is, in fact, Sam’s birthday. The girls may have let Mother’s Day slip by, but at least they remembered her birthday.

Frankie congratulates Sam for surviving another year and being a fighter, and even apologizes for being an asshole. It is nice to know that Frankie acknowledges how much of a prat she is to her mother. Even though that behavior may continue when the two cross paths, at least Frankie knows that yes, she can be a pain in the ass.

Shake the Cocktail Murray congratulates Sam for making it 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

Duke and Max, though, also deliver on the special day and bring in a cake for Sam’s 50th birthday. Duke even comes in with the balloon that we saw earlier in the episode. As Sam prepares to blow out the candles, she sees Murray again. He congratulates her on making it, but then asks what happens now. We contemplate that as Sam blows out the candles as the third season of Better Things comes to a close.

Shake the Cocktail Sam about to blow out her birthday candles 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

Again, this season has been about growth and maturity for the characters. Pamela Adlon delivered on a stellar season with a lot of humor and heart, even the “Toilet” episode. Sam’s relationships changed throughout the course of the season, and despite everything she faced, she managed to land on her feet and, above all else, was there when others needed her.

Shake the Cocktail Sam and Rich at the beach 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E12) "Shake the Cocktail" Season Finale

In all honesty, with Sam celebrating her birthday, Murray congratulating her, and Frankie moving out, this episode has a real feeling of finality to it.

In a way, this almost feels like it could be a series finale rather than a season finale. But obviously there’s much more story to tell and the series has been renewed for a fourth season. So we’ll have to see what Sam and company get into when we return for Better Things Season 4. See you then!