‘Better Things’ Recap: Ghost Protocol – Rolling Stone
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‘Better Things’ Recap: Ghost Protocol

A ladies’ night gets compromised, Duke gets spooked and Sam deals with a furry, 500-lb. visitor

BETTER THINGS "Show Me the Magic" Episode 10 (Airs Thursday, May 2, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox, Olivia Edward as Duke. CR: Suzanne Tenner/FX

Pamela Adlon and Olivia Edward in 'Better Things.'

Suzanne Tenner/FX

A review of “Show Me The Magic,” this week’s Better Things, coming up just as soon as I eat my grandfather…

Midway through “Show Me the Magic,” Sam asks David Miller to pose as a medium to make the girls feel better about Duke‘s belief that Murray‘s ghost lives in their house. David rightly calls this out as both a ludicrous request and an attempt to sabotage whatever is happening between the two of them. By the end of the scene, they’re making out, but David’s therapeutic instincts aren’t wrong. For all her good and admirable traits, Sam Fox has an uncanny knack for creatively, at times unconsciously, torpedoing relationships when she’s not happy about them.

“Show Me the Magic” isn’t entirely about that character flaw, but it’s a lot about it. We open with Sam and much of the friend group from the birthday party in “No Limit” gathering at Lala‘s house for a night of drinking, bonding and tales of life with menopause. It’s a relaxed, happy night — even Sam and Tressa largely get along, despite the weird professional separation that Tressa demanded last week — until Lala’s husband Tom comes home early from the Dodgers game with an old buddy. The guys’ arrival seems to suck all the energy out of the room. It’s not that they’re doing anything bad, but simply that they’re interlopers in a night designed to not include or be about them, and the awkwardness is palpable. But it’s also Tom and Lala’s house, so everyone is polite enough not to complain — everybody except Sam, that is. And she doesn’t just object a little, but rather launches an entire anti-Tom screed that makes everyone — and Lala the hostess in particular — uncomfortable. As happens later at David’s office, even Sam recognizes she has taken things way too far. Unlike with David, there’s no option to just start kissing to smooth over the awkwardness. (Instead, the women prepare to sit through a private screening of Monsters in the Moonlight, which no one is in the mood for after this unpleasantness.)

The mess with David is a continuation of what we’ve been seeing between the two of them, and between Sam and Mer, for much of the season. She does like this guy on some level. But she really only seems to want him as someone to help solve other problems — whether that’s her unwanted attraction to Mer or how to get Duke and Frankie to stop freaking out about Murray. Even though he has officially abdicated the responsibility of being her therapist, she’s still in many ways treating him as one, which makes the whole thing an ethical nightmare, too. (Though David telling Sam, mid-nookie, that he won’t charge her for this session, was a very funny line.)

Murray appears in Sam’s car after she leaves David’s, and though she doesn’t appreciate his jokes about experimenting with men in the Seventies, they do provide her with the inspiration to tackle the ghost problem head-on. By giving Duke mementos of the real Murray — books he wrote, audio recordings of him talking to Sam as a little girl, a “word ball” — she’s able to turn her father from spectral menace into a real person for her youngest daughter, in a very touching scene. Of course, Sam’s kids are all weirdos in different ways, so soon, Duke is whipping up a peanut butter and jelly and grandpa’s ashes sandwich, so she can feel even closer to this man she never met. Sam, meanwhile, has to privately grieve Duke’s dead pet mouse, Mandy Patinkin, and is carrying the lifeless body of the tiny creature when she’s confronted by a much larger and more dangerous animal: the black bear whose poop has been turning up in her driveway all season. Both critters allow Sam to tap into her emotions (grief over her father and her fear of messing up her current life, among others) in ways that her therapy sessions with David never could, and her new super toilet proves useful in disposing of Mandy’s corpse.

One problem solved, many more to go — often of Sam’s own making.

Previously: Cold Readings

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