A little over three minutes into the pilot episode of Freeform’s Single Drunk Female, we’re perfectly introduced to the series’ most important relationship: that of Samantha “Sam” Fink (Sofia Black-D’Elia) and her mother, Carol (Ally Sheedy).
By this point in the pilot, we’d already seen Sam drunkenly assault her boss, get sentenced to community service, and sent to rehab. However, the show establishes itself immediately after, when Sam leaves rehab and climbs into the car with her mother.
“Did you just talk about me the whole time?” Carol cheekily asks her daughter. Sam sarcastically responds, “Yes, Mother. It is all about you. But yeah, basically.” In three sentences and less than a minute of screen time, their mother-daughter dynamic is perfectly established. But even more importantly, filming this scene was also the moment Simone Finch, the creator of Single Drunk Female, knew that Black-D’Elia and Sheedy were perfect for their roles.
“‘This is gonna be it,’” Finch recalls saying after shooting the scene. She spoke to The Daily Beast’s Obsessed in a recent Zoom interview, ahead of the show’s Season 2 premiere. “[Ally and Sofia] just got that moment so well.”
For Sheedy and Black-D’Elia, creating their characters’ relationship on-screen came as naturally as they make it look in the series. “It is the easiest thing in the show, because the second we met each other, it was like we’d known each other for a million years,” says D’Elia. Sheedy echoes Sofia’s sentiments, calling their ability to craft a mother-and-daughter bond “a blessing and a gift.”
(Warning: Spoilers follow for Season 2 of Single Drunk Female.)
In Single Drunk Female’s excellent second season, the somewhat dysfunctional relationship between Sam and Carol takes center stage. Switching between Carol and Sam’s perspectives, the season portrays with great emotion and humor not only the struggles of a mother/daughter relationship, but how one can work toward bettering that relationship. Showing these sides to the story and putting their tension upfront is something that narratively made a lot of sense to Black-D’Elia.
“It’s the heart of the show,” D’Elia tells Obsessed of Sam and Carol’s damaged dynamic. “It also makes sense that the most complicated relationship in your life would start to take up a lot of space when you are finally not drinking and are actually present with it.”
Finch, whose life story is the basis for Single Drunk Female, says “quite a lot” of what happens between Sam and Carol is taken from her real-life relationship with her mother. “I’ve been sober almost nine years, so our relationship today is different and better, but I pull from the past, remembering how it was when I was [newly sober],” says Finch. “I see the progression today, because I’ve had enough time away from it. So that’s how it helps building those characters and building their arcs together.”
Putting viewers in Carol’s perspective was also very important to Finch this season. “I didn’t have the ability at that time as much as I do today to put myself in other people’s shoes and see things from my mother’s perspective,” she says. “The more sober time I get, the easier I am on my mother, and the easier it is to see my mother for who she is and who I want her to be.”
In the first season, we watched as Sam struggled to get sober and Carol learned to handle her daughter’s alcoholism. But much of the show was told from Sam’s point of view. This season, however, really digs into the who and why of Carol. Sam is over a year and a half sober now, which means Carol is facing a whole new challenge: relating to this version of Sam, while reckoning with all the pain Sam has caused her in the past. In the most basic of terms, the women’s relationship is a powder keg ready to explode.
“[Sam] is not drinking anymore, and I don’t know how to have a relationship with her if she’s not going to be the problem alcoholic,” Sheedy tells Obsessed of Carol’s Season 2 arc. “I am really angry at her for a lot of things that go way back.”
This uncertainty leads Carol to do something very bad. In the third episode, she finds and reads Sam’s fourth step in the Alcoholics Anonymous program, which is a list of resentments—about 50 pages long—that are mostly about her mother. From that point on, the powder keg has been lit.
In real life, Finch was the one who read her former partner’s list. “When I did it, I said to my sponsor at the time, ‘Why am I doing this?’ And she said, ‘You’re searching for something, you want answers.’ And I think in the same way, Carol was looking for answers, and that’s why she did what she did.”
When Carol confronts Sam about the resentments in her fourth step, the powder keg finally explodes. Sam, who has had her privacy unforgivably violated, moves in with her best friend, Brit (Sasha Compère). Carol, devastated by the words written by her daughter, doubles down and refuses to apologize to Sam. In the first season, Sam had a lot to apologize to Carol for, but here, Carol shoulders the brunt of the blame for creating a rift in their relationship.
“It was really, really painful,” Sheedy says. “And the rest of the season is, for me, about the aftermath and dealing with the damage that I caused. It takes a little while to say I caused it.”
Sheedy, who talks with such passion and understanding of her role, says Carol’s actions all come down to a need for control. Carol lost her husband, Sam’s father, to a long illness. Then, her daughter developed a difficult disease in alcoholism. Both of these events left Carol very damaged.
“Now they’re both over, right?” says Sheedy, referring to the situations that wore Carol down. “[Carol’s husband] died, and then within two years, [Sam] got sober. And now I only know how to function if I have total control, because I feel like chaos is lurking,” said Sheedy. “And, unfortunately, that means that I end up driving everybody in my life away.”
After their big blowout, Carol desperately calls Sam’s sponsor, Olivia Elliot (Rebecca Henderson), for help. However, she receives neither an easy solution nor absolution. Olivia tells Carol that she is the one in the wrong here, advising her to go to AA’s sister program, Friends and Families of Alcoholics.
Then, as Carol reluctantly tries out a few of these meetings, she is dealt another catastrophic blow: Her live-in boyfriend Bob (Ian Gomez) moves out. Carol has hit her rock bottom, which culminates in a very poignant moment. She finally decides to speak up in a meeting, tearfully admitting, “I haven’t felt this alone since my husband died.”
“She’s lost and completely alone at that particular moment,” Sheedy says. “That’s where she has to break open to ask for some kind of help, because it had to get to a breaking point.”
Once Carol admits that she needs help of her own, she begins her own path of recovery, starting with a visit to her daughter’s friend, Felicia (Lily Mae Harrington). The vulnerable and frank conversation between the two about Felicia’s friendship with Sam, its possible effect on Sam’s drinking, and the struggles of motherhood is not only one of Sheedy’s favorite scenes in the whole season, but it is also a turning point for her character.
“I think Carol did blame [Felicia] on some level for Sam’s [alcoholism] because, again, Carol doesn’t wanna blame herself,” says Finch. “So, when Carol acknowledges [it and says], ‘I know that it’s not your fault,’ that’s a big moment.”
“She’s the first person Carol is actually able to make an apology to. I’m actually apologizing to her for hurting her,” adds Sheedy about Felicia. “And because I’m able to [apologize to her], then I’m able to actually do another one, which is to Sam.”
And she does. After spending much of the season apart, in the penultimate episode, Sam and Carol finally reunite, and Carol officially apologizes. “There’s some kind of damage that you do to people that I think you can heal and move on, but it’s not really forgivable,” Sheedy says. “It’s not really forgivable what Carol does this season. So, it’s a question of, how are they going to go forward?”
The apology sets Sam and Carol back on a better path toward a healthier relationship. They bond over their recent break-ups, and Sam finally moves into her very own apartment. Carol not only accepts that Sam is moving out but also is putting up new boundaries with her, making plain both women’s growth over the 10-episode season. “I was just looking at Ally when we were shooting that day, and I was like, ‘Wow, we really deserve this,’” says Black-D’Elia.
Like any familial relationship, this one’s story is not wrapped up in a bow. Yes, Carol did the work to be able to see the errors in her ways. However, nothing is quite so simple when it comes to complex dynamics.
“In life, do you get one big breakthrough, and then everything’s like, wow, all rearranged? We’re all smacking good now? No, I think it’s a continual journey. So I really don’t know what’s gonna go on with the relationship,” says Sheedy. “I just know that Carol is different at the end of the season than she was at the beginning.”
Finch was also satisfied with how the season ends for Sam and Carol, but she is nowhere near done exploring their relationship. “I’d like to go even deeper, if that’s possible, in the third season. I don’t know exactly what that is yet. I’ve been thinking about it,” she says. “They’re the heart of the show, so we have to keep that conflict alive in some way.”