On ‘Better Things,’ Why Does Sam Feel ‘Sick’ About Love?

Senior Television Writer
10.05.17

FX

A review of tonight’s Better Things coming up just as soon as you explain your fake mustache…

After a darkly comic prologue where Phil’s interrogation of an innocent cosplaying kid at a bookstore is ended abruptly by her own incontinence(*), “Sick” proceeds to tell two short stories that at first glance seem unrelated, but ultimately are about the same thing: Sam Fox is terrified of romantic commitment, and her useless ex-husband Xander is the reason why.

(*) This might at first seem self-contained, but Sam is worried about her mother’s health, even if she doesn’t know about the bookstore incident. Women Phil’s age do not tend to get stronger and sharper. Keep an eye on this.

On the one hand, it’s an absurd, unfair request for Sam to ask her friend Rich to blow off a work meeting so he can calm down her nausea and panic over realizing how much she likes Robin. On the other, Rich clearly cares enough for Sam that he would do this, and Sam is generally so maniacal in her self-reliance that when she calls in help, it’s a big enough deal that Rich or Tressa or any of her other friends would come running. We saw last week in “Robin” that Sam was already stressing the details of a relationship with a really nice, if overeager, guy, though more of the blame seemed to be on him than on her. Here, we get the other side of the coin: Sam simply doesn’t trust the idea of feeling so deeply about a guy, specially not this soon, and it’s in the episode’s final vignette that we get to fully understand why.

We don’t know the full details of Sam and Xander’s breakup. We don’t need to. It couldn’t be more obvious how much damage was done to Sam, and to the girls. Frankie’s just desperate for any attention from her father, where Max is startled and upset to see him — and, in typical Max fashion, blames her mom for the whole affair. We saw in Xander’s season one appearance that he has a history of making promises to the girls that he can’t keep, and though the evening mostly goes okay, especially for the younger girls, it feels like a ticking time bomb, and it’s hard to blame Sam for shutting the door in this jerk’s face in mid-anecdote to end the episode on one last uncomfortable joke.

Not my favorite of the season, but that has more to do with the overall quality of what’s aired (and what’s coming that I’ve already seen) than anything “Sick” itself does.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast. His next book, Breaking Bad 101, is out 10/10 and available for preoder now.

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