On tonight’s FX comedy Better Things, changes are afoot for Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon) professionally and perhaps personally as well.
In tonight’s episode, which is titled The Unknown, a rift sets in between Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon) and her manager of 20 years, Tressa played by Rebecca Metz.
Sam has a chance at Broadway, but it wasn’t Metz’s Tressa who brought her to that party, it was an outsider who Tressa has had her hackles up about all season: Mer Kodis (Marsha Thomason).
Mer is a sexy younger manager who’s also a lesbian attracted to Sam. She has curiously convenient run-ins and chance encounters with Sam and is now the interloper who Tressa has pegged earlier in the season as a “flipper.”
The entire third season of Better Things is emotional and steeped in sentimentality, loss, physical changes for Sam, her mum Phil and all her daughters, as fears of the unknown bubble to the surface as time marches on.
— Rebecca Metz (@TheRebeccaMetz) April 24, 2019
The tension between Tressa and Sam is foreshadowed a bit in the opener of this episode.
Sam’s lifelong friend “‘Friar’ Durham” (Griffin Dunne) toasted her late dad at the Friars’ Club, bringing Sam into the fold.
Later at the bar, the two have a light flirt. Of course, he has a 20-year-old girlfriend which allows Sam an epic rant as only she can do it.
Extolling the virtues of deserving age-appropriate women left in the dust by men like Durham, she says: “You guys just skip a whole generation or three!”
Being brushed aside for something younger, better, newer is a bit of a theme in this run of Better Things.
And as we see, Mer is once again conveniently in Sam’s professional and personal orbit, flirting and playing on Sam’s appreciation for being appreciated and her unspoken fear of becoming irrelevant in her acting career as she gets older.
Sam wanted a blockbuster film… she got it. Now Sam is being offered a chance (thanks to Mer) for a prestigious Broadway role — another bucket list “get” she has her heart set on.
Meanwhile, Tressa is acutely aware that Mer is flitting about her client and friend in a bid to steal Sam away — personally and professionally.
We spoke to Rebecca Metz about the emotional moments of episode 9 with no spoilers of what’s to come for next week’s fallout of that call.
Monsters and Critics: There was a lot of open-ended endings in this episode, questions and the unknown, which is aptly named. Your Tressa preempted the split.
Rebecca Metz: Yes. This has been simmering for a while. It came up with Tressa, who brings it up in 303 …and it’s been simmering. It was obviously bothering her then.
The way Tressa decides to handle it, I think suggests that she’s got some abandonment stuff. Like she’s going to end this before Sam has a chance to end it with her.
Which feels to me like someone who’s had her heart broken. We know from last season about how things went down with her dad. And that he kind of disowned her and then she had to come back and take care of him anyway.
We don’t know a lot about her love life but it sure feels to me like the behavior of someone who feels like they’ve been left a few times and is not going to have that happen again. It’s a defensive move, “You know what? I’m gonna do it.”
I think Tress is really hurt. I think she’s hurt that Sam hasn’t been more honest with her about her feelings and concerns. That she’s having this flirtation, whether it’s a personal flirtation or a professional flirtation.
I think one of the things about their relationship is that those lines are blurry because they are both. Because they have a professional and a personal relationship and they don’t keep the two separate.
I think Tressa probably feels some violation and like she’s been wronged on both of those fronts. She just decides to end it on her terms before Sam has a chance to do it for herself.
M&C: Sam collects art. She collects people. She’s sentimental. She doesn’t let go easily. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that with actors, there’s a level of flirtation between agents and managers because you want people to like you and work hard for you and I feel that Mer’s confusing Sam. I think Sam knows her mind and she knows her sexuality and I think that Mer is confusing that element of being an actor. What do you think?
Rebecca Metz: Yes, I think you’re absolutely right. I can’t really be objective because I’m obviously on Tressa’s side so, I think that Mer is a little bit predatory.
Again, and who knows how much of that is personal and how much of that is professional.
I also think that actors in generalized Sam specifically, always have a ‘grass is always greener.’ Sam wanted this movie. But big blockbuster movies can suck to work on. They’re not super creatively fulfilling all the time. They can be a grind.
So, she told Tressa that’s what she wanted and Tressa got her what she wanted and now she’s unhappy.
I think Tressa has seen this before, she’s seen this in Sam before, she knows actors and so I think Tressa is a little bit like, “be careful what you wish for.”
And she can see this other manager swooping in and making Sam feel pretty and telling her she can get her more money and that she should be getting more money and she should be higher on the call sheet and kind of talking her up when we’ve seen Tressa protect Sam from the realities of the business before.
The first time we meet Tressa that’s what she’s doing. I think Tressa is one of those people who maybe have a little bit of a martyr complex. She does the work and doesn’t tell anybody about the work that’s she’s doing so she feels chronically underappreciated.
I think that for sure is some of that going on. Here comes this light, shiny, sexy manager and Tressa is like, “Oh, I know how this goes. I’ve seen this before.”
I also think it’s complicated by the fact that Tress is right a little bit. You know we see it in 303, she says she’s a flipper. She’s going to flirt with you. We see it happen. I think Sam is a little pissed that Tress is right.
M&C: And in kind of a weird way too. Sam foreshadows this rift with you, with Tressa and Sam, with that opening scene where the guy has the really young girlfriend and she’s at the Fryer’s Club and she’s like, “Dude..why?” And he’s like … I don’t know. There seems to be a lot of parallels with ageism and that whole thing that actors go through that, the opposite of rejection, that need to have people love them.
Rebecca Metz: Yes, and one of the things that I think this show does so well its one of those complexities like Sam knows better, she knows the appeal of a younger person sort of giving you some attention and yet she does it anyway.
She’s falling into a trap she can see so clearly in other people but when someone is springing it on her, she falls for it. And we all do that but that’s the kind of messy, gross thing that I think the show does so well. You see her falling for it. And on some level, she probably knows she’s falling for it but we’re human so we do it anyway.
M&C: One of the things that’s really cool about this season is how Better Things shows the real behind-the-scenes of the life of a working actor. Talk about that as an actor…
Rebecca Metz: It was very interesting to me, my very first episode, Tressa’s very first episode was the things about the pilot. Tressa kind of protecting Sam from not getting the pilot and I noticed then that it resonated way differently with people who are in the industry than people who aren’t.
People who weren’t were, “Tress is a terrible manager, she lied to her, she should have told her.”
People who are in the industry are, “oh, it was so lovely. She was protecting her.”
They really got it in a different way. It’s obviously not a show just for people in the industry but I love that it works on both of those levels.
The stuff Pam is writing and Sam is experiencing and saying are real things that real, working actors, complain about all the time. It’s not written by someone who doesn’t get it. It’s like these episodes, the stuff about the movie and her complaining, they’re cheating on turnaround and we know what that means. What a grind that is.
I love that the show is not afraid to get into some stuff that they know not everyone is going to appreciate. That’s a pretty niche audience, that’s going to really get what that means.
But, it’s so satisfying to be like, “Oh my god, I worked on movies where they cheated on turnaround.” All the stuff she’s saying and that it’s not glamorous all the time, or even most of the time. It can be a grind and there is stuff to complain about and we take it for granted.
M&C: Are you still filming Coop and Cami. Have you got any other projects? Are you still doing Shameless?
Rebecca Metz: I’m not [on Shameless at the moment]. We tried last season and just schedule-wise, I was sort of looking around like, “Am I really going to be able to get away with being on three shows at once?”
And the answer is no. We were trying to make it happen but it was too difficult juggling schedules. I think my time with Shameless is done, I’m sad to say.
I did work on something really fun over the hiatus [we can talk about soon]. The Disney movie, Magic Camp, that I worked on and I think we talked about last time, I’m told is going to come out on Disney Now, the new streaming service when it launches, whenever it’s going to launch.
So, someday people will be able to see it and I’ll be three years younger then whenever it comes out.
Better Things airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. EP/PT on FX.