A review of “Easter,” this week’s Better Things, coming up just as soon as I tell you what your going rate should be…
Late in “Easter,” Sam‘s brother Marion offers the closest thing to a mission statement that Better Things has given us. He’s giving a pep talk to Duke, who’s shaken by Phil‘s cruelly candid account of how and why Sam married Xander, and he realizes he needs to sing his sister’s praises as loud as he possibly can.
“Your mother may be the greatest mother in the world,” he says. “She’s crazy and a complete pain in the ass and annoying, but she loves you and she would do anything for you. And the most important thing in the world — the most important thing — is that she’s there. You wake up, she’s there. You go to sleep, she’s there. You need her, she’s there. You don’t need her, she’s there. Even when she isn’t there, she’s there. She will always be there. And that is all that matters.”
Based on what we’ve seen of the series to date, and what Pamela Adlon has talked about in interviews, she can’t overstate the value of a parent simply showing up, day after day, hour after hour, in times both happy and annoying. And between the way Marion delivers this speech and what we know of his relationship with Phil, it’s clear he understands the importance of being there mainly because his own mom was so rarely there for him.
“Easter” is one of those Better Things episodes that’s two largely separate short stories placed together in the same half-hour. We open with Sam helping to get Max a hotel room for a photo shoot with Olivier. She’s entertained that a random motorist mistakes her for a prostitute(*), only to later realize, in hilariously ironic fashion, that she essentially paid for her daughter to have sex with Olivier. (Their hookup is shot and edited in the same non-chronological style as the famous sex scene from Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, which Steven Soderbergh would borrow years later for Out of Sight.)
(*) This was also a running gag on a recent episode of Tru TV’s I’m Sorry, whose main character was also curious to find out how much she could charge for sex work. One more and we’ve officially got a trend, people.
Still, the lengths Sam will go to even for her exasperatingly flaky college dropout daughter serve as a sharp counterpoint to what Phil is up to in the episode’s titular storyline. Sam’s largely absent from the episode’s second half (a rarity for this show), as we follow Phil and Duke to an Easter egg hunt at the home of Phil’s gentleman friend Walter.
It’s an awkward day. Though Walter’s wife Esther is deep in the throes of Alzheimer’s, they are still married, so Phil is looked at by the rest of the family as his brazen mistress. On top of that, she’s a difficult, extremely rude and imperious white lady, and one who is still trying to cover for the erratic behavior coming from her own early stage senility. So she gets no sympathy from anyone else at the party, and keeps making things worse for herself by interceding in the egg hunt and then telling Duke the story about Xander.
While Marion drives Duke home and tries to cheer up his niece, Phil wanders around the house and eventually meets Esther herself (played by Being Mary Jane‘s Margaret Avery). Walter’s wife has been consigned to the TV room where she can peacefully watch Judy Garland in Easter Parade and sing along to the music. Most of her memories and personality traits have long since been eaten by this terrible disease, but the lyrics stick with her. She is a kind of Ghost of Easter Future to Phil, who earlier in the episode forgot all about the fact that she’d asked Marion to pick up Duke. She has days when she’s alert enough to rescue Sam from an awkward conversation with the girls (ironically, also about Xander), or to recognize that she shouldn’t be driving anymore, but things will only get worse for her from here.
It’s clear from what we know and see of her interactions with both children that Phil wasn’t always the most physically or emotionally present mother. Now, though, she’s nearing the tragic point where she can be there in body, but not at all in mind.
Previously: Royal Flush