Better Things: Season 3, Episode 12 “Shake The Cocktail” [Season Finale] – Recap, Review (with Spoilers)

Sam looking at a birthday cake which celebrates her 50th birthday.
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It’s Sam’s 50th birthday, and while Phil fails to give Sam what she wants, Frankie makes an effort and really, that is all Sam is asking for.


Network
FX
Director(s) Pamela Adlon
Writer(s) Pamela Adlon
Air Date 5/16/19

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Have You Seen My Kid?: Frankie/Frances, Sam

It has been 8 days since Frankie, also known as Frances (to Duke anyway) has paused sharing her location and has been sleeping over friends houses, if not on the streets. Why? Well, it’s complicated. Every now and then there appears to be a flare up. Which, due to there being so much between Frankie and Sam that neither know where to begin, it leaves them in this state of contentiousness. Especially since Frankie doesn’t subscribe to the idea of just letting things go and no matter how many times she confronts Sam publicly or privately, it doesn’t seem she is ready for that talk.

So, in an almost comical way, just as Sam is one persona with everyone, but Frankie, she does the same. Maybe to spite Sam or push the idea Sam is the problem. It is really hard to say.

I Just Need Some Me & You Time: Rich, Sam, Max, David

Sam looking down in shame while spending time with Rich before Frankie's recital.

Somethings don’t really change. Be it Max shamelessly having a guy in her bed or Sam maybe allowing it out of fear that, like Frankie, Max will run off and distance herself from her. But, it is a fear which is clearly unhealthy and is eating away at Sam. For being lonely, desperate even, is giving her a lot of bark. Take her lunch with Rich, for example. Her being unable to get some one on one time, since his twink of a boyfriend shows up, infuriates her. Just like when she was with her girlfriends and their husbands came around.

Really making it seem, while Sam has David, she recognizes that isn’t a real relationship. He is a placeholder, a human vibrator – if they have sex, and doesn’t add up to the kind of person she wants. Especially compared to all the friends she misses. Heck, it would also explain her missing her ex. Hitting the big 5-0 is really screwing with her as well as the idea of dying alone.

Don’t Forget, Frances/Frankie Loves You: Sam, Frankie/Frances, Phil, Rich, Duke, Max

Sam’s 50th birthday isn’t something she is necessarily keen on celebrating. She enjoys the acknowledgments from friends, family, and her children, but she doesn’t want a party. All she wants is her mom to say, never mind remember, it is her birthday. She wants Rich, despite him being mad, to still show her for her kids, for her, and not forget her just because he has some boy toy. With Duke, she just wants her to stay sweet and Max? Well, her too.

Frankie's birthday card to Sam.

With Frankie though, or Frances, who decides to come home after a recital, the love is there, but it’s one which seemingly works best at a distance. It’s hard to put into words, since their relationship is filled with words unsaid, but that in itself, as noted, is probably the problem. Though for a moment, with Frankie contacting Duke and using the name Frances, and brother, it does make you wonder if Frances is the issue here.

What I mean by that is, maybe Sam pushing the idea she has three daughters, only referring to Frances as Frankie, is the issue? But, with them signing their card to Sam as Frankie, that kills that. So one can only assume, taking note of the lyrics from “Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine, that might be the closest we’ll get to understanding Frankie’s relationship with Sam. For maybe, like the poem in “It’s Lit,” we’re seeing Frankie perform that for a reason. Since, maybe in Frances’ (I’ll be going back and forth throughout) mind, the only way Sam knows how to open up and be vulnerable is creative expression. So how else but when on stage, the focus, will Frankie be able to speak to their mom and maybe break through to them? Find a way to express themselves in a way which is vulnerable yet doesn’t leave them feeling weak?

Question(s) Left Unanswered

  1. With it not really being a thing since season 1, what does Frankie/Frances identify as or are they still in conflict with the idea of their identity? Or could it be, since Xander isn’t around, Rich is barely around, and their uncle either, Frances represents Frankie’s persona when she is speaking as the man of the house?
  2. Did Sam push away, or freak out, so many of her friends over the course of the season that only Rich and her kids wanted to wish her a happy birthday?
  3. Is Max in an actual relationship or she just sleeps with Oliver from time to time? Also, does Sam not care anymore just so that she is able to keep a watch on Max?

Highlights

Your Brother, Frances

Frankie, or Frances, talking to Sam about using her bathtub.

I do not know how to interpret Frances, but that’s part of the appeal Frances, or Frankie, brings. Duke may have a vulgar side to her, but most of the time she is this sweet 11 year old. Max may seem like her emotions peak out of nowhere, but you know that comes from Xander, the way her friends are, as well as the men she deals with. With Frankie/ Frances, while Xander and many others being absent affects them, it isn’t known to what extent. Unlike their sisters, they don’t have their heart on their sleeve and are consistently verbal about how they feel. At most, it is once a season they directly say something.

This season, you can assume the poem and participating in “Shake It Out” was directed at Sam, but who knows? Frankie is the last intriguing character and with that comes the question whether killing that enigmatic mystique wouldn’t mean so much getting to know them but feel more like a dissection? Since, unlike the others, Frankie doesn’t feel still yet. The character is still evolving, even three years in, and hasn’t really settled into a person Sam, or even we, really know.

Which, for most shows, that would be an issue. Yet, for Better Things, it allows you into Sam’s mind and into that of a parent who sees their kid on a fairly regular basis and yet still feel like this person is a stranger to them. No matter how nice you are, how you reach out, or how you try to be there for them.

On The Fence

David

I think we can all agree this thing with David is unhealthy and unethical. Yes, she is no longer his patient, but it feels like he is taken advantage of what he learned when she was to emotional to keep her ensnared. Leading to this twisted relationship that makes it seem like he is trying to foster dependency to live out this teenaged fantasy he had.

Which is honestly upsetting for the way Frankie blows up at Sam, we’re starting to see Sam do that with her friends. All because David couldn’t do his job and wouldn’t cut Sam off when he realized he has feelings for her and is in an opportune position.

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