BETTER THINGS AND THE MANY MASKS MOTHERS WEAR

Considering the episode’s title, “Sick”, and its comic-cum-tragic opening, it would have been easy to assume this episode was going to centre around Phil (Celia Imrie) and whatever ailment that has caused her to piddle on a book shop’s floor in the worst possible moment. Confronted with a young boy wearing a cape and a fake moustache, Phil relishes in a rare moment of eerie superiority that would never have the same effect on Sam and her grandchildren.

This strange kid takes her seriously as she questions his fake moustache’s motives, his eyes growing bigger and more afraid with every taunting minute. But as is usually the case for Phil, she ends up being the source of ridicule and pity rather than respect when the young boy watches the urine trickle from under her yellow skirt, his expression as confused and shocked as her own.

Embarrassed and startled, Phil ushers Sam – who was oblivious to the situation – out of the bookshop, happy to forget any of this ever happened. Like a child desperate to hide another bed-wetting accident for fear of disappointing its parents, Phil hides her muddled mental state from her daughter and grandchildren for fear of becoming a burden. Something isn’t quite right with Phil, but for the moment, it’s not her who is sick. It’s Sam.

Sam is showing all the classic signs of lovesickness, only hers operates on a level a lot more complex than the opera of inexpressible emotions a teen might feel for an unrequited crush. She’s distracted, anxious, moody and frightened of the possibility of embarking on something real. She has gotten so good at being alone, at constantly putting aside her own life and feelings in favour of her children, she has entirely forgotten what it feels like to confront herself as an individual. Robin (Henry Thomas), the source of her heartache, has thrown her for a complete loop.

Like most mothers, Sam does not have the luxury to be inconsiderate; that is a task best left to her teenaged girls Max (Mikey Madison) and Frankie (Hannah Alligood). When the kids find their family dog, Daisy, dead on the floor, Frankie and Max are quick to tell their mother what must be done, but they don’t pause for a second to mourn the animal, or check in with how Sam is handling the morbid discovery on her hallway carpet. The only one still capable of showing empathy is Duke (Olivia Edward), the youngest of the bunch. She sweetly explains she needs some time alone, but not before asking Sam if she’s OK and patting her on the head.

Whether she’s dealing with a dead dog, an asshole ex-husband, a difficult mother or a thirty-year-old Spanish Casanova dating her sixteen-year-old daughter – Sam is forced to bite through the pain, anger and disappointment in a bid to stay strong for her daughters, so the prospect of allowing herself to fully feel and react in a manner that is not edited, and does not downplay her inner turmoil, is downright terrifying.   

Teen love is exciting – albeit it nauseatingly so -, adventurous and new. Adult love is swapping emotional baggage and deciding whether you have the muscle to carry the weight of another person’s brick-filled suitcase on top of the load you are already carrying with three kids, a mother and an unspecified number of dogs to care for. And it’s something Sam isn’t sure she’s ready for.

When Frankie invites her dad – Sam’s estranged husband – over for dinner, Sam can only bare to agree through gritted teeth. Of course, she wants her kids to have a good relationship with their father, but it causes her a great deal of distress, not only on a personal level, but in terms of what his rare and impromptu visits do to her daughters – each time he swings by they are filled with hope, only to be let down again. But as always, Sam keeps her mask fastened on tightly, and simply picks up the pieces whenever shit hits the fan again.

 And yet, while watching Max gently rest her head on her father’s shoulder as he plays the piano, and Duke contently smiling at her, Sam realizes that, perhaps, moments like this might be worth taking a risk for – as petrifying as it might be.