Spoilers ahead for Better Things Season 3, Episode 1. Things could be better for Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon) in the Feb. 28 Better Things Season 3 premiere. It's finally time for her oldest child to leave the nest, and Sam wants her "big, This Is Us, life milestone moment, goodbye hug." And although she gets it (but only after pleading loudly with her daughter in a crowded restaurant), it's underscored by the fact that Max (Mikey Madison) is ditching her mom on their last night together. And so it goes.
"Throughout all of the seasons, there has been this underlying factor of Max growing up and trying to figure herself out, but it's even more pronounced this year," Mikey Madison told Bustle at the 2019 Winter Television Critics Association press tour. "She's going off to college and she really thinks that this is what she wants," Madison continued, in reference to her Better Things character. "She thinks this is what she needs. She's sure of herself. But when she gets there, she realizes how much she misses her family and how much she wasn't ready to leave yet."
In Season 1, audiences saw Max have what can only be described as a mid-teenage crisis, where she was convinced she'd never get into college. And yet here she is, two seasons later, racing to find the "best bed in the worst room" at Columbia College in Chicago. "Max is so incredibly hard on herself," Madison told Bustle in the same interview, later saying, "I wish I could tell [her] just to trust herself and her instincts. She's following more of a creative path instead of a college-driven path."
And in some ways, nothing has changed since Season 1. The high school graduate sits on her luggage by her dorm, anxiously rambling about how she feels like a pioneer. And yet, Sam is all too aware of how much time has past. At the tail-end of Season 2, audiences watched Max date and then break up with a much older man named Arturo, then get stood up by her father at her graduation.
Much like her grad ceremony in the Season 2 finale, audiences don't see any of the actual move-in process, because it's besides the point. What matters are the interactions between Sam and her daughter — their dinner where Max reveals her fake ID and they go out drinking together. It's a familiar dynamic — both intermittently affectionate and snippy with each other, as mother-daughter relationships often are. And so naturally, Max is eager for her mom to leave so she can get to know her male roommate (much to Sam's chagrin).
It should be obvious by this point that Sam and her eldest have an unconventional relationship. But by Max's standards, her mom is uptight. After all, Sam wouldn't let her have a keg at her graduation party! She's wary of her male roommate! She buys every kind of medication known to man! And yet never is their relationship more real and sincere than in those frustrated, bickering moments.
No show explores the frustrating monotony of family life more deftly than Better Things. While a This Is Us or Parenthood-type show would likely end the episode with Sam and Max hugging in public, the jazz music swelling around them, that's not where the Season 3 premiere finishes off.
After their dramatic hug, Sam still has to go to the airport, where she's patted down by security because of her extra-absorbent underwear. And when she returns home, Frankie needs homework help. Sam has had a sad, frustrating day, but she doesn't have time to dwell on it, because she needs to read the first act of A Raisin In the Sun.
Although Sam got her romantic goodbye, life keeps going, because anything less would be unrealistic.