One thing you can say that Better Things takes pride in is the celebration of not just women in general, aging. Sam is no spring chicken, and she knows this. She’s not pretending that she’s still in her early 20s or acting like her best days are ahead of her. Even with that in mind, she’s still able to keep up with everything life throws at her, not the least of which includes her relationship with her daughters and mother.
No matter how difficult the situation, Sam eventually comes out on top. Maybe not in the best condition, but each obstacle in her path, she overcomes.
“DNA” starts off with Sam not cooking, but playing the piano. Specifically Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” Honestly, part of me hoped for a bit of a meta moment and that she would be playing John Lennon’s “Mother,” given how that used to be the song used in the show’s opening sequence. But it’s not. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, especially considering how damn good Pamela Adlon is on the piano.
Anyway, per the episode’s title, Sam needs a DNA sample from Phil. Just saliva. But before Sam arrives, Phil and her friends are discussing the way of the world right now, specifically the #MeToo movement and it’s changed things. Some see this as justice for men and how they’ve taken advantage of women in the past. Others, not so much. One of the women points out that hey, if a man grabbed her behind, she would return the favor in kind and grab his. Well, an equal opportunist, I’m sure.
Sam eventually arrives for that DNA sample but Phil, like a kid getting their first shot, isn’t eager to just hand it over, so she runs for a bit. Were this any of us, we’d probably get fed up pretty fast, but this is Sam. She knows by this point that her mother is going to have some fun with this and resist as much as she can. So this becomes a quick game of cat and mouse as Sam chases Phil over, under, and all around the table.
We don’t get the results of that test because we then cut to Sam at the doctor’s. I neglected to mention that in the opening scene, Sam is wearing a sort of compression sleeve on her left hand. At the doctor’s, we learn about the chronic pain she’s experiencing in her hand. Turns out this appointment is six months late, but the purpose is the same. Turns out that Sam’s hands are older than she is, and physical therapy won’t do her any good.
The sort of technology that would help Sam in this situation hasn’t been invented yet, but at the very least she’s younger than her hands. It’s probably the only time in recent memory that Sam has been told that she’s young, so take some solace in the little things, you know?
But going back to what Sam overcomes, this is an example that, for all of her strengths, the human body is still fragile and ages like everything else. It’s a splash of cold water for those of us who hope to maintain our youth forever, but Sam’s not that kind of person. Still, hearing it from your doctor that part of your body is failing you is still a stunner.
So between the chinchilla and snake, it seems like a constant of this season is that Sam is slowly, but surely turning her home into a zoo. Let’s add an owl into the mix. Yeah, Sam awakens to find an owl in her bed. How? Why? Who the hell cares? It’s hilarious is all that matters. Ultimately, Duke is the one to get the owl out of her mother’s room and it’s another showcase of how good she is with animals. Seriously, she cradles the owl like it’s a newborn. It’s a nice, cute scene, even for someone like me whose heart is made of stone. Oh, and the owl shall be named Edwin because of course.
We touch back upon the subject of Frankie’s possible quinceañera when Sam is talking with the gardener. Turns out that his own daughter has asked for a quinceañera, so perhaps the gardener and Frankie could team up. Sounds like a plan. Would take some of the heavy lifting off of Sam’s shoulders at least.
Okay, so remember Duke’s friend from the previous episode? Turns out she’s got a name: Pepper. Go figure. Pepper wants to star the El Camino. That’s it. Just start it. Sam eventually acquiesces. I can’t imagine either of them is ready to drive, especially a car like that, but that’s not important.
What’s important is once Pepper gets in the car and the door is slammed, Pepper loses a chunk of one of her fingers. By accident, mind you, but still, that’s a hell of a way to lose part of your finger. A tragic incident, to be sure.
Not for Duke, though, who finds the entire affair hilarious. As much as Duke has matured, moments like this remind us that a. she’s still a kid, and b. the youngest of the Fox daughters. She’s not going to immediately process this the same way that Max or Frankie would. I mean, she does process it the way most of us would once the dog eats the finger chunk, but still a fun, if not twisted moment. Not quite the level of Wednesday Addams, but she could get there over time.
This would and, for most people, would be the priority for the next few minutes, especially since the episode is almost over. But oh no. Max is heading to work and she needs a certain dress that Sam hasn’t gotten around to because she didn’t get to the laundry. Yet. Can you blame her? She’s got a full plate and a half. Plus, Max should be able to do her own laundry when, as Sam will soon point out, she’s living rent-free, but we’ll get to that…right now.
Max, who is also on her period at the moment, tears into her mother. Well, again. Sam defends herself, saying that Max can’t take her period out on the others and hey, Max is old enough to do for herself. But Max counters with the notion that kids aren’t supposed to help their mothers. Max doesn’t stop there, either. She calls Sam a disaster and that she has no idea what it’s like to be a woman.
Full stop. Keep in mind that Sam had no problem with Max moving back in after she suddenly dropped out of college. Keep in mind that Sam has had infinite F-ing patience with all three of her daughters, but Max especially. Keep in mind that all Sam asks of her girls is that they contribute. Not do more than they can, but just help out, and even that’s hard for them to do. Well, it’s hard for Max and Frankie at least.
These two women just got their nethers waxed together one episode ago and Max is claiming that her mother has no idea what it’s like to be a woman? Were it anyone else, I doubt Sam would be anywhere near as patient. Anyway, Sam calls Max a cunt, prompting Max to return the favor. Though I do like how, nestled in there, Sam not only calls Max a cunt, but she calls one of her other sisters an asshole, and the other one great.
It’s worth noting that Duke and Frankie, from downstairs, chime in at this particular point in the conversation and are appreciative of Sam’s “kind” words. Well, at the very least Sam didn’t call them cunts.
It doesn’t take much to figure out which is Frankie and which is Duke, but I do like that Sam slid that in there. This particular argument is noteworthy, sure, though the exchange of the C-word, I feel, isn’t as impacting as the conversation that preceded it. This moment was highlighted by Adlon at the TCAs earlier this year, and I see why, especially given the escalation, how noteworthy it is, but I got more out of the two just chewing each other out, as they’ve done before.
In the end, all is, as you’d expect, forgiven. Sam would like Max to move out, but also no. If Sam walking in on Frankie last time wasn’t enough, Max reminds her mother that she’ll have this sort of conversation at least two more times when the others are old enough. It’s funny because it’s true.
All in all, a good episode with a great finale. Again, while “cunt” being thrown around isn’t as big a deal to me as is the argument leading up to that, it still became a moment of growth for both Max and Sam. At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with that.