Only Somebody Somewhere can present us with a shitstorm — and I mean literal shit, guys — that also functions as a way to show us how close two characters have become. What a feat that while Sam and Joel are peeing out their butts, we’re like wow, yes, this is sort of a nice moment of growth for these two, isn’t it? That’s the power of good writing and great characters and horrible, horrible diarrhea.
But before we get into all that, well yeah, shit, we should talk about the big news at the top of the episode: Fred Rococo is getting married! Fred’s engaged to Susan, a woman he went to grad school with and has had an off-again-on-again thing with for twenty-five years. Do you find this surprising? So do Sam, Joel, and Tiffani, who are introduced to Susan during poker night in such a nonchalant way, everyone’s wondering if they missed something. But no, that’s just Fred’s way, and both he and Susan seem quite happy.
The way that Sam and Joel react to the news in private is pretty much the perfect encapsulation of their individual personalities. Joel couldn’t be more thrilled for his friend. Joel loves love and loves that Fred has so clearly found it and thinks that Susan is “pretty great.” That thing about Susan helping Fred tie his shoes every day? Adorable. Sam, quite clearly, is put out of sorts. She thinks Susan is “cool” if a little “boring,” and sure, she’s happy for the two of them, but she doesn’t want Susan to become a permanent fixture in their weekly poker game. Joel admonishes her a bit but realizes Sam’s reaction has very little to do with Fred and much more to do about Sam.
If last season was about Sam slowly confronting her grief over the loss of her sister Holly, “#2” seems to indicate that Sam will be confronting a few more of her issues this season. That’s what grief does — grief is chaos and it stirs all the things you already have brewing inside of you around and blasts them out in unexpected ways. It’s a super fun time. To Sam, Fred getting married means the dynamic of their group, this community Sam just opened herself up to, will change. Maybe she worries it means she’ll be seeing less of Fred after just getting him back from his sabbatical. She just lost her sister, and now she’s going to lose Fred, too? We know from last season that Sam closed herself off to most people. Surely part of doing that was to protect herself from getting hurt, and change, regardless of it being for happy reasons, can hurt. Joel seems to recognize this about Sam, at least to a certain extent. After calling her out for being just a little bit judgy about Susan, he assures her that he’ll always be around to tie her shoes. “You’re gonna be all sweet to me when I’m being a cunt? Kind of ruins my thing,” she tells him. At least she’s self-aware.
Sam might have her moments, but she’s not actually an asshole, so when she and Joel meet up with Fred the next day, she’s back on board with the whole thing. She might not be enthusiastic, but she is supportive. It’s good timing, too, because Fred wants both Joel and Sam to be a part of his big day — he wants Joel to officiate and Sam to sing at the ceremony. Neither looks totally comfortable with the idea — Joel would rather have a more low profile gig like “the person who guards the gifts,” and I felt that in my soul — but in the end, they say yes. Of course, they do.
Sam’s real anxiety over singing at the wedding doesn’t hit until she’s sent the song Susan wants to walk down the aisle to — “Ave Maria.” Sam doesn’t do Ave Maria or any music full of “sweet little notes.” She stresses about this to Joel while the two are shopping for Fred at the sex toy store. Joel, of course, loves the song and loves thinking about Sam singing that song, and he starts crying right there in the store. There’s just something about watching a grown man weep to church music in front of a shelf of dildos that boosts your confidence, you know?
Resolved to sing the song for Fred and Susan, Sam comes up with a plan: Singing lessons. She knows her boss Ray’s daughter — Sam works at a jewelry store now — takes vocal lessons, and when she asks Ray about it, she discovers that it’s the same vocal instructor Sam had in high school and, wouldn’t ya know, there’s a fall recital coming up, should Sam want to see what Darlene Edwards and her pupils are up to.
You can tell Sam really cares about Fred because she subjects herself to one of the more awkward social outings an adult can find herself at: An intimate music recital in a large, mostly empty school gym in which you are not related to anyone performing. You’re just there, like a creep. The whole situation is bleak as hell. At least Sam has Joel? Although, honestly, maybe having a witness only worsens the whole thing? Plus, once one of them starts giggling at the absurdity of it all, the other can’t help but join in, and that’s a real slippery slope. The worst but also best example of this takes place when Darlene’s only adult student — the wildly passionate Brad Schraeder (Tim Bagley) — steps on stage to perform and the two lose it with laughter. An already awkward situation made even more so by this guy and his gusto for opera music. Joel, ever the optimist, applauds Brad: “He left it all on the floor,” he whispers to Sam between giggles. “So did I,” she responds, “I think I just wet my pants.”
This doesn’t stop Sam from her mission. She finds Darlene after the recital at the reception and Darlene instantly recognizes her former student, even though she hasn’t seen her in 17 years. When Sam asks if they could pick up where they left off, Darlene makes a comment about how they never really got started. We know Sam pushed singing aside like she pushed so many things aside, and this comment is just more evidence of that. Suffice it to say, cracking open this singing shell one more time, especially with someone tied to her past, is going to stir some stuff up for Sam. Regardless, Sam did the hard part and asked for help, and Darlene looked over the moon to be able to say yes to her — this is a big win for Sam.
But the adventure has only just begun, friends. And what an adventure it is for all of us. Joel and Sam go to town on an hors d’oeuvre sitting out that consists of a pickle and cream cheese wrapped in ham. This delicacy, made by none other than Brad, is known as St. Louis sushi. It makes my stomach turn just thinking about it, but also, when Sam and Joel describe it as “kinda good but kinda gross,” I get it. What’s more universal than shoving food into your face that is possibly disgusting but also maybe not that disgusting? That’s life, baby.
A few hours later, as Sam is wistfully listening to a cassette tape recording of her and her sisters singing, something comes over her. Her eyes go wild and she bolts. We find her sitting on the toilet shitting her brains out — it can only be described as violent — but also calling Joel to see if he’s experiencing the same thing, and oh babes, he is. He really is. This entire sequence of Sam and Joel muting the other while awful things happen in their toilet and then they unmute and try to act normal is so insane and hilarious, and I never wanted it to end. Which is saying a lot because … let’s just say, the foley artists on this episode should get a raise. Eventually, Sam forgets to mute her phone and then drops it, and there is no hiding from the noises the two of them are making. Joel calls it “a new level of intimacy” for them, and he isn’t wrong. There’s no going back from this new stage of friendship, the poop stage is an eternal one. The kicker of the whole thing, of course, is that Sam’s out of toilet paper. “Oh Joel, oh no, I have some real bad news for me,” she says. It is the perfect ending to the whole ridiculous thing, and I am not lying when I say I would watch a 30-minute behind-the-scenes featurette on how they filmed this scene.
• Sam’s face when she learns that her mother, in an act of anger, put her on the “no visitors” list, so Tricia has to do their dreaded visit alone is one of pure, unadulterated bliss. “Sometimes life just comes in and tells you it loves you back,” she says to the receptionist.
• Tricia’s having a rough go of it: She took a job at a supermarket a few towns over so no one would recognize her, but, alas, she runs into someone who knows her from Tender Moments and their exchange is both awkward and soul-crushing. She winds up feeding her anger by scrolling through Charity’s perfect little Instagram feed before hate-posting the “lying cunt” pillow she made Charity last season on her own finsta account.
• Sam to the sex toy store employee who asks if he can be of assistance: “I’d like something that can split me in half.”