Last night, on the season’s second episode of Better Things, protagonist Sam Fox’s date rolls off of her, pleased with his sexual performance, takes his own pulse, and gives her a postcoital arm punch. Then, in the neediest voice possible, he asks: “Did ya? Did ya?” The look on Sam’s face says it all. She did whatever the opposite of orgasming is. Can you negative orgasm? That’s what she did.
Judging by the number of man rings he’s wearing, her date looks like the kind of guy who has mastered several magic tricks and wears a fedora. (Spoiler: As we later see, he does.) Despite the silently obvious nonresponse from Sam — played by Better Things creator Pamela Adlon — he persists. He looks so satisfied with his performance. “Did you? Did you have an orgasm?” he asks again. She squirms out from underneath his arm, pulls on her pants, and says a version of If you have to ask …
Forty seconds in, we can all tell this is probably not going to end well. But we probably can’t tell that it’s going to end in one of the most satisfying TV monologues in recent memory.
On the series, most of Sam’s personal life — away from her daughters — develops offscreen, so we’re not privy to how these two met or started dating. What we actually see onscreen is just a ten-minute arc, but it devolves as such a realistic catastrophe. We know that they’ve been going out for three weeks, in which Sam has been barely tolerating his presence, and that he’s gotten fed up with being barely tolerated and wants to be adored.
The scene culminates in a showdown. Do you enjoy having sex with me? Did you have an orgasm? Do you even like me? Man Rings Fedora demands to know. When he doesn’t get the answer he wants, he’s angry, and starts bitching about a lack of respect, or her being nice to him. He’s butt-hurt and expressing it.
Sam, a single mom and the type of woman who doesn’t hesitate to take over the aux cord in her date’s car so she can listen to her music, has politely, silently endured all she can. And so she takes a breath and dives deep into the repressed experience of her own decades of bad dates. And then, she goes beyond that and channels all the collective sexual dissatisfaction of our clenched-smile sister-ancestors, and unleashes the rant to end all rants. In it, she offers an instruction manual of catharsis, or at the very least, mass wish fulfillment.
Finally, after Man Rings Fedora makes his list of demands (mostly under the umbrella of “validate me”), Sam, stunned, lays it out: “You demand a certain level of thing from me,” she starts calmly. “I feel like you demand a whole lot, too much frankly, considering what you bring to the table … You need a lot and give little.”
Then, he calls her “mean” and she goes off from there. She gets into all of the things that are deeply annoying about him: his voice, his neediness, his constant requests to know how she feels about him, and — the biggest crime — the fact that he’s no fun and she’s still banged him ten times. It escalates into her yelling, “YOU SUCK!” and a particularly mean dig about his lackluster sexual performance to bring it home. She garners some applause from the lone woman in the parking lot. That woman is a stand-in for all of us watching at home. Give Sam a Nobel Prize.
It’s truly bad behavior. But her explosive monologue gets at an eternal question that’s been asked in myriad ways by countless women on countless TV shows who have to put up with all of this: “Why does everyone have to be so careful all of the time with a man’s feelings?” Why is it that when she’s “a tiny bit mean or tiny bit honest,” she’s a bitch? (“I’d never say that word!” Man Rings responds, because of course.)
This rant is a reminder that you don’t have to be pleasant, you don’t have to tolerate not getting off, you sure as fuck don’t have to endure a fedora, but if you do — and we need no explanation as to why she endured for as long as she did, we’ve all been there — here’s how to effectively articulate it: “BOO. BOO ON YOU.”
She didn’t have an orgasm, but she did find some sweet, sweet release, and so did viewers. Because what’s better than mediocre sex with someone who makes your skin crawl a little bit? A really good rant.