A review of “Monsters in the Moonlight,” this week’s Better Things, coming up just as soon as I make you a sandwich before you start your adult meth life…
Some weeks, Better Things likes to turn the spotlight onto the supporting characters, or at least to acknowledge that Sam Fox isn’t a wholly perfect heroine. Some weeks, though, we get a tale like “Monsters in the Moonlight,” about how many indignities Sam has to endure from everyone else in Sam’s life.
The episode, named after the sci-fi movie Sam is still filming, is a parade of one useless, disappointing person after another. We open with Sam having sex fantasies about her ex-husband, Xander, unable to enjoy them because she rightly hates Xander so much. He can’t satisfy her in absentia, nor can he even follow through on calling the cell phone he sent Duke a few episodes back.
Sam has largely raised the girls, but they still have their father’s DNA, on top of having their childhoods shaped by his absence and general Xander-ness. So it’s perhaps not a surprise that Max would (as she was threatening to do in last week’s FaceTime call) drop out of school before her first semester is even over. Though she’s Sam’s oldest daughter, Max has long been presented as the least mature sibling. She’s exasperating in her refusal to even apologize for bailing — if only for wasting Sam’s tuition money — let alone consider going back. But it’s very much a Like Father, Like Daughter sort of moment.
Matters on the set of Monsters in the Moonlight are even worse than they were in “Holding.” Nikki is busy flirting with every man on set — and laughing off the genuine concerns of Sam and other women — while shrouding herself in the mantle of being a “guy’s girl.” Sam and her co-stars are bullied into performing a stunt that’s not even classified as one (which allows the production to skirt union safety and financial guidelines), and Tibor the director won’t even apologize when the car stunt goes so awry that her co-stars vomit. (It does not feel coincidental that earlier in the episode, we see Sam interrupt Frankie‘s driving lesson to give Duke a turn behind the wheel, on her mom’s lap. The stunt is as if Duke were allowed to tool around unsupervised.) Murray‘s ghost tries to warn Sam off of being a whistleblower, but we already understand that Sam doesn’t care about the approval of awful people, even professionally. She barely even gets personal satisfaction out of telling off Tibor and Nikki, because they’re too wrapped up in their own nonsense to acknowledge what she’s saying, let alone grovel for forgiveness. But a thing needs to be said, and Sam Fox says it.
If the episode was just a litany of complaints, it could risk wallowing in self-pity. But we close on a happier note: Mer takes Sam out to a bar (where Corrinna Repp performs “Lightest Light”) and makes clear that her interest is, as Tressa assumed last week, purely romantic. They talk, Mer flirts and if Sam isn’t exactly flirting back, she also doesn’t mind, particularly when she finally manages to gratify herself in the car afterwards, finding the release that memories of Xander couldn’t provide earlier.
Better Things‘ primary concern has been parenting, and when we see Sam on dates or in relationships, those scenes are usually about how disappointing she finds them. This feels much more promising for her, and a welcome bit of light at the end of a bitterly funny airing of grievances.
Previously: Father Knows Best