Is Darlene Edwards just a freaking angel on Earth? Sam’s new/old vocal coach is lovely, kind, and patient, and those are all good things, because these are probably the most loaded vocal lessons Darlene’s ever had to deal with. You can tell immediately from Sam’s body language upon entering Darlene’s house for her first lesson that she is nervous, uncomfortable, and out of her comfort zone. We, of course, know that those are good things for Sam to be as she takes baby steps toward being more vulnerable in her relationships, but for Sam it’s still pretty terrifying.
Last season, we saw Sam get over some of her baggage tied to music — much of that had to do with Holly — when she started singing at choir practice. What’s going on here, however, is a little different. Things start off fine, if a little awkward. Darlene wants to kick things off by having Sam sing anything she wants. After some hesitation, she goes with the jazz standard “That’s All,” and friends, what a treat for our stupid little ears. Sometimes you forget how wonderful Bridget Everett’s voice is, but it’s on full display here, even if Sam has her eyes closed the entire time, a sign of her self-consciousness. But there’s no need for any of that — Darlene is moved to tears. She has chills! She immediately recalls how “rich and mature” Sam’s voice sounded even back in high school, singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in the choir. She calls Sam’s voice “special.”
Sam can’t take compliments, though, and the moment she shows Darlene the sheet music for “Ave Maria,” the song she’s supposed to sing at Fred and Susan’s wedding, she starts making excuses for herself. She “can’t sing that style of music,” she says, explaining that her voice is just “too heavy” for such a “light and flighty” song. “We have our work cut out for us,” she tells Darlene. She’s already failed in her mind, but Darlene just tells her, “We’ll get there,” and moves on to breathing exercises.
At her next lesson, Sam uses that same line — “We have our work cut out for us” — when it takes a couple of tries to get through her scales. Thankfully, Darlene calls her out on it. As it turns out, Sam says that’s what Darlene said about Sam back in high school. Darlene apparently told her that her voice was heavy and that they had their work cut out for them. You can see Darlene is clearly taken aback. I am taken aback! This comment that Darlene made, possibly (probably!) once when Sam was back in high school, which was possibly (probably!!) taken out of context or misunderstood, has stuck with Sam for decades. It still hurts her so much that she tries to get in front of it by using it to criticize herself. The self-deprecation here is staggering. You can tell it kills Darlene to think she caused Sam this kind of pain, especially because it’s obvious she’s such a fan of Sam’s voice. She tells her in no uncertain terms that Sam’s voice isn’t “heavy”; it’s “a rich, full voice.” And everyone has to work hard to improve, not just Sam. It’s time to start fresh, she tells Sam. This woman is too much. I just want to bake chocolate chip cookies with her and sit on her porch with her while we do a crossword puzzle or something.
All of this sets us up for what turns out to be Sam’s third and, from the looks of it, final voice lesson. We’ve established that she’s feeling uneasy and vulnerable. On top of that, she’s dealing with some intense stuff regarding her mother. Sure, she and Tricia are currently in the “chugging hot Chardonnay from the bottle in the nursing-home parking lot” of processing just how intense, but eventually everything they must be feeling — a lot of anger, some sadness, exhaustion — after being told Mary Jo is getting kicked out of the nursing home until she’s placed into a psych ward where they can adjust her meds, will need to be dealt with. So that, mixed with everything else Sam is feeling, is just waiting to come out. Her third voice lesson gives those feelings the perfect opportunity. During breathing exercises, Darlene pushes Sam to breathe as deeply as possible. She wants Sam to note how good that feels , “like the first time you fell in love,” she says. This sets something off in Sam. She can’t do the deep breathing anymore because she’s holding back tears. She tries to pull it together, but it gets even worse, and she bolts before Darlene can say much of anything.
Joel, ever the dutiful friend, has been sitting outside on Darlene’s porch during all of these lessons. He’s supposed to be working on what he’ll be saying as the officiant at Fred and Susan’s wedding, but, like Sam, he’s having some issues. He still hasn’t found his way back to church since all the lying about choir practice stuff last season, and, as he tells Fred, he’s “struggling with what it’s going to mean to stand there before God for the first time since I lied.” I’m glad Somebody Somewhere didn’t drop this through-line for Joel, since his faith was such a major component of his character. Even so, Fred tells him that Joel officiating his wedding has nothing to do with Joel’s relationship with God. “All this means is you’re important to me and I really want you there,” Fred tells Joel. Is Fred Rococo the nicest character on television? Please discuss.
The conversation with Fred puts the whole thing into perspective for Joel, and he’s feeling much better about taking on the officiant job. He still hasn’t written his speech, but that could also be because while sitting on Darlene’s porch, he’s also busy getting to know Brad — yep, St. Louis Sushi Brad — a bit better. They talk about types of trees and driftwood and Brad’s eighth-grade students. Maybe that sounds boring to you, but there’s definitely something sparking there. Regardless, Joel is sitting there when Sam runs out. Later, he finds her back at her house, clearly upset. He doesn’t know what happened, but he knows he wants to be there for her. He doesn’t care that she just wants “to stare at the wall” (relatable) or that his “positivity is getting on my nerves” (also relatable). He wants to get her out of the house for a walk and some ice cream. It’s yet another sign of their great friendship: He doesn’t push her to talk about what’s going on right there, but he does nudge her to do something that will make her feel better.
This is not the same Sam we met in season one. Here, although you can tell she’s a little hesitant, she wants to confide in Joel. She tells him the whole story and then confesses that she’s never been in love. Even though she jokes about why she would ever want to “do that to [herself]” or that she prefers “judging people that choose love and lose,” it’s obvious that is something she wants and she’s finally admitting it to herself. The whole scene, the way it’s written, the way it’s shot, is just gorgeously done. And it wraps up in a way that is so quintessentially Somebody Somewhere. On the tail end of Sam’s admission to Joel, she adds in a bittersweet sentiment: “You’re the only person I know that would do anything for me.” It’s lovely and sad … and then Sam adds that that includes standing guard while she takes a piss on the side of the walking path … and does just that. Yep, the same old Sam is still in there, too.
When she threatens to “cut [Joel’s] dick off” if he tells anyone what she just confessed to, he lovingly points out just how “tender” she is. “I’m doing the best I can,” she says, laughing. While the whole thing might be jokes between friends, isn’t that really the crux of the show? People with all of their baggage just doing their best with the help of those who care most about them? Like I said, it’s a gorgeous cap to the episode.
• News to everyone: Tricia is starting an event-design business called Trish Upon a Star (Joel loves it), and when she hears Sam has two friends getting married, she wants in on it. Tricia, you may recall, hasn’t had the nicest attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community, and while the meeting goes well, she calls out Sam afterward, telling her that she takes marriage “seriously.” Sam reminds her that they do too. Maybe this will be good for Tricia and not a total disaster?
• Amy Sedaris, of all people, shares Tricia’s “Lying Cunt” pillow on Instagram, and Tricia’s account starts blowing up. I love this for her. Fingers crossed she becomes the Lying Cunt Pillow Queen of Kansas.
• “Hey, uh, hold my calls! I love saying that. I don’t have a secretary.” Again, Fred Rococo is the absolute best.
• Does anyone else see Joel pick up that piece of driftwood to take home during his walk with Sam? Joel’s got it bad for St. Louis Sushi! Or, sorry, “Sergeant Loose Stools” or “Sir Liquid Shits”? Sam and Joel are still workshopping on what SLS should stand for.
• Like any good friend would, when Sam first finds Joel chatting up Brad on the porch, she jokingly teases that Joel has a boner. “I think it’s just the pleats,” Joel responds.
• “You and Me” by Penny & the Quarters playing over the credits? Perfect choice.
• “Is that what straight sex is like?” “If you’re lucky.”