Here we are, the end of Better Things’ fourth season and probably the last episode for some time. Not just due to the fact that everything, at the time of this writing, is on hold due to covid-19. Right now, the show has yet to be renewed, when it typically has before the season finale. So right now, like everything else, we’re in a holding pattern.
The episode begins with some testimonials about anonymous women and their experiences with their first period. These are sprinkled throughout the episode and become more important later, so I’ll save those for later in the episode.
For now, though, Pamela Adlon described this finale as a love letter to Los Angeles, and it really feels like that. She takes Murray and Duke to a stadium to see the fireworks, while the city of Los Angeles simultaneously goes against social distancing for the sake of seeing things explode in the sky. Like any good sports game or event at a stadium, it’s crowded, meaning it’ll take a long time to get out.
Meaning it’ll take a long time to find your car or ride share. That’s just what happens in this Better Things finale as Sam, like everyone else wanting to get out, can’t because things are backed up. It’s not helped by the fact that the President is downtown, so that will slow things down even more. Luckily, the three have the help of a security guard who walks them out of the stadium and, eventually, drops them off at the subway station.
The guard, after inquiring about the kids’ father, suggests that next time Sam should marry a Mexican. Why? Because they stick around. Well, I suppose that’s a plus if that’s indeed the case.
The three stop for food and while it’s nice to see Sam chatting up another food owner after her adventure in New Orleans, it’s Duke we have to worry about. Why? Because she’s apparently still seeing ghosts. She chats up an older woman in a yellow coat, sitting on a park bench. Anywhere else and I’d say this woman was April O’Neil. But it’s not. Duke opens up to the woman, saying that she doesn’t want to get married or have kids. She takes solace in being alone.
As does the woman, and it’s nice to see Duke have such a meaningful conversation…only for it to be revealed that hey, Duke isn’t talking to anyone at all! Guess she’ll be dealing with that issue for awhile after all. Then again, it’s rare that Duke opens up to anyone in her family, or at least not to the extent that she does with this woman, so she at least has someone who she can talk to.
After some Carpool Karaoke- not with James Corden, mind you- we return to the stories of women and their first experience with menopause. However, we get deeper as the women then talk about the struggles encountered as they age. At first, they take solace in ageing out of things like catcalling or harassment, but that equates to them not being noticed at all.
Eventually, Sam takes center stage and explains that she first got her period at the age of 12. It’s here where we get, for my money, the show’s best moment: Sam talking about what it means to be a woman in this world. It’s helped because of how real Adlon’s performance comes off in the scene. To Sam, being a woman means being built up, and then broken down. You’re unseen as a woman and no one prepares you for this.
It’s a heartfelt performance that, to my surprise, wins Sam the praise of her daughters…and Rich, but no way would he be a dick to her. It’s one of the few times that Sam’s daughters are in one accord as far as saying something positive about her, so this will probably never happen again.
Now, then. What about Xander? He did agree to dinner, so would he hold his end of the deal? Surprisingly, yes, he does show up. Unfortunately, the girls aren’t here because they’ve gone to the beach, and given that they’re part of the reason that Xander has shown up, it’s a disappointment. Does he turn tail and run?
Surprisingly, no. He sticks it out and, despite some jabs from Rich and Phil, enjoys drinks with Sam. Ideally, Xander would just stick around and wait for the girls to return. He’d further make amends with Sam and show that he’s truly going to do better as a father and former husband. It wouldn’t take much. Just sit around and talk things out with Sam and Rich while having some drinks.
Alas, that’s not the case. Perhaps Xander’s role as a father would always end in failure? Either way, he asks Sam for the final alimony check. It’s a cathartic moment more for Sam than Xander because, as Sam says, after this, she’s effectively done with Xander forever. She even took a loan out of the bank. It’s a bold, but strong move for Sam, as she forgives Xander not for him, but for her and her daughters. In effect, this allows her to wipe the slate clean and start anew.
As it turns out, this was a test. At least, the girls not being present was. Would Xander stick it out and prove that he’s a changed man, or just run? Credit where it’s due, he doesn’t immediately leave. At the very least, it’s nice that, for a moment, he seems to getting along fine with Rich, Sam, and Phil, even though he’s reminded that he’s experiencing what the girls go through when he’s not around. It’s deserved and a test to see if he’s changed his ways.
When Xander leaves, Phil invites Sam and Rich to go for a swim in the neighbor’s pool, bringing us full circle from the neighbor’s complaint earlier in the season. In fact, we bring a lot of things full circle with this final moment. The three go for a swim in the pool while the girls are at the beach. Between this and the rain that’s been prominent throughout, I wouldn’t be surprised if Season 5 began with everyone underwater.
Joking aside, though, it’s a nice, quiet ending for this season of Better Things. Sam has taken a lot of steps forward this season, what with the final alimony check- and the message on it- the DNA test, her message to women about growing up in this world, her experience getting very “experienced,” and the getaway trip for a friend’s wedding.
I maintain that the highlight and best episode of this season was “New Orleans” for the change of pace it brought to the series, not to mention just seeing Sam in new territory and having a great time away from family. But “Father’s Day” is up there too as a good, character building episode not just for Sam, but the other women in her life as well.
Again, though, Better Things, like most television shows, is in a holding pattern due to the impact that covid-19 has had not just on the entertainment industry, but the world in general. I assume that FX probably would have renewed, were things not brought to a standstill in the same way that the fourth season of Fargo hasn’t premiered yet. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.
For the time being, though, it’s been a fun ride with this season of Better Things, and here’s hoping we unite once more for a fifth season down the line. See you then.