A/N: Like the Damien/Mark playlist, this is a mix I made long ago that I ended up using as writing inspiration for a lot longer than I anticipated. As such, there’s commentary from when I originally put the mix together, and some from right before we recorded episode 53.
From September 2017: Sometimes mixes just happen. Most of the playlists are made intentionally before I start writing in order for me to get my thoughts organized about a character or pairing. But every now and then I start haphazardly throwing music into a folder that reminds me of what I’m already working on and a playlist grows out of it. That’s what happened with this mix. Sam and Mark are together in Season 4, but having a hard time. They’ve both been through so much and they’re trying to move forward but neither know how. Neither know how to be in an adult relationship or how to be their full, damaged selves around each other. As a result this playlist is…sad. Far sadder than I ever planned. I don’t know how Sam and Mark turn out - I want them to be happy together but there is a long way to go.
From April 2018: Where I’m at with Sam and Mark right now is as follows: 53 has been written for months but I just keep rewriting it. It’s the most time I’ve spent on any of the character episodes, probably given my own personal connection with Sam. But also, as I’ve mentioned before, Sam and Mark are having a much harder time than I had initially anticipated. And even though I’m working on the last two episodes of the show, I still don’t know how they’re going to end up. I keep thinking I do and then I revisit 53 and change one line and it changes the trajectory of their relationship completely. It’s like time traveling in my own writing - altering one tiny thing can affect the futures of two people very significantly.
1. “On the Street Where You Live” - Billy Porter
2017: This is the most openly optimistic song on the playlist. Now that Mark is out and safe, Damien is out of the way, and Sam has a new space to call her own, there’s real hope in their relationship for the first time. This song has such a sense of wonder and excitement - that feeling you get when you’re just obsessed with that person you’re dating and so everything remotely related to them seems special. I think that’s how they feel about each other when they’re not being bogged down by all the other stuff.
2018: By the time this was put on this playlist, I knew that we’d be doing a musical episode, but Episode 49 hadn’t yet been written. So the association with “My Fair Lady” ended up being a nice coincidence.
2. “I Can’t Get Started With You” - Ella Fitzgerald*
2017: This has been a Sam/Mark song for a long time and was even on my B-Sides playlist because I wasn’t sure it would ever get placement. But it perfectly encapsulates their relationship in Season 4 - they’ve been through so much, overcome so many obstacles, and done impossible things individually. And yet every time they try to get started with an actual relationship something gets in the way - first time and space, then Damien, then Mark’s trauma, then Sam’s agenda, Mark’s alcohol abuse, etc. etc. They just can’t get started.
Both this song and Billy Porter’s performance of “On the Street Where You Live" have that old, jazz standard quality that I always strongly associate with Mark and Sam. I tried to stay as close genre and feel-wise on this mix to their original playlist.
3. “Lover Come Back” - City and Colour
2017: Sometimes life hands you something you didn’t even know you were looking for. I was trying to find a version of “Lover Come Back to Me” (another old standard) that fit the aesthetic of the playlist. The lyrics of that song work incredibly well for Sam and Mark - that feeling of being far away from someone you love even though, in their case, they are right next to each other. This song popped up as the first result, despite being a totally different song. But when I saw it was City and Colour, I listened. Dallas Green, the lead singer, is half of You + Me, a band that featured on Sam and Mark’s original playlist. This song ended up being perfect.
Bound for trouble from the start/I’ve been walking through this old world in the dark/all along, right by my side/there you were, my shining ray of light - a big theme with Sam/Mark is the idea that they’ve saved each other. The big question is then: is that enough?
How could I have been so foolish to let you leave - the idea of “foolishness” when it comes to Sam/Mark comes back later, so this line further cemented this song as ideal for them.
2018: That idea of foolishness was, of course, Sam's song in Episode 50
4. “Bright White Jackets” - April Smith & The Great Picture Show
This is a number that could also apply to post-Season 2 Mark, when he was struggling to remember Sam and piece his mind back together. But the general message of, “I’m so broken but I will always love you” is at the heart of the Sam/Mark dynamic. They think they are both too damaged to be with the other person and so they try to be perfect for each other. That, of course, will fail and ultimately frustrate them both. In order to be happy, they have to accept that they are imperfect and accept each other’s love all the same. They have to learn to lean on each other.
5. “It Don’t Matter to the Sun” - Rosie Thomas
2017: Another repeat artist - Rosie Thomas is on their first mix with one of her slightly less sad songs. This isn’t her song originally but she brings an extra layer of melancholy that only she can. This and the next two songs are probably the lowest points of their relationship - the feeling that things have gotten so disconnected, that you’re both so lost, that it can never be saved
‘Cause see to them it makes no difference/it just keeps on keepin’ time/‘Cause it ain’t gonna stop the world, no/but it’ll be the end of mine - love me some time references when it comes to these two
2018: oof, this now has a special kind of pain when played in the context of Episode 53. Because Mark does walk out the door, which in so many ways is Sam’s worst fear.
A/N, 2018: Okay, so this is where something kind of weird happens. Which is that, for the first time ever, I made a major change to a playlist months after it was originally made. At first, I had “The Hill” by Marketa Irglova here, and you can still see my notes for that below. The playlist still works like that but, as I say in the notes, the song is just a touch too pessimistic for Sam and Mark’s relationship. Only recently did I realize that the song I actually wanted was “Alone Apart” by The Swell Season. The Swell Season is the duo that Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard made after doing “Once” together, so the DNA of the music is the same. Because this song ended up going here instead of “The Hill”, I swapped the placement of the previous two songs. It used to be “It Don’t Matter to the Sun” and then “Bright White Jackets” but I found that it worked better with “Alone Apart” following “It Don’t Matter to the Sun"
“The Hill” - Once
2017: Oof, this is such a tragic song but so, so beautiful. Again, there’s so much in here about not being perfect and just wanting the other person to help you carry your burden but not knowing how to ask for that. I think this song is a great deal more pessimistic than Sam and Mark’s relationship, but a lot of the lyrics still ring true.
I wish I didn’t have to make all those mistakes and be wise/Please try to patient/and know that I’m still learning/I’m sorry that you have to see/the strength inside me burning
And I’m letting myself down/ by satisfying you/and I wish that you could see/I have my troubles too - they both have their troubles and they’re both letting themselves and each other down by constantly burying those troubles.
6. “Alone Apart” - The Swell Season
2018: I realized I wanted this song on this playlist when I started humming it while writing Episode 53. I just love that phrase - alone apart. And, well, basically this whole song is perfect for Sam and Mark in Episode 53. I could copy every single lyric and, you know what, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
How many times have I been here How many times was I lost And how many times I'd be drown in the sea If you weren't there to rescue me
We're sailing, we're sailing every night We're drifting, we're drifting alone apart Not to show that we're in need But I'd heal your wounds if you bleed
How many times have I hurt you How many times have you And how many times I'd been on my knees Begging, begging please forgive me
Thank you for being so patient with me I've been weaker than I ought to be Despair and jealousy blinded my mind And I couldn't see how you're trying for me
I mean, come on. Those last two stanzas especially!
7. “Work Song” - Hozier
2017: Through making all the playlists for this show, I think I’ve come to realize that Hozier is one of my favorite artists or, at the very least, this is a favorite album. His music has such an intangible quality to it and his lyrics tend to be poetic and devotional. I’m sure by the end of the show, I will have used every song on this album.
These final two songs are really about trying to make your way back to someone. That’s what Sam and Mark are trying to do. They made this journey together - being trapped in time, getting out, finding their way to each other and now…now the really hard work begins. Now they have to make their own personal journeys - learn the truth about themselves in light of everything that’s happened - and hopefully find their way back to each other.
No grave can hold my body down/I’ll crawl home to her - I love the idea of nothing, not even death, keeping two people from each other.
My babe would never fret none/about what my hands and my body done/if the lord don’t forgive me/I’d still have my babe and my babe would have me - here’s the acceptance they both need. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done in the past, they can love each other anyway.
8. “As the Crow Flies” - Sam Palladio & Clare Bowen*
2017: I am absolutely the last person on earth still watching the show Nashville but I’m a sucker for the drama and gosh, the music is great. All these lyrics work so I’m just gonna get straight to it—
I wish that I may/wish that I might/get back to you, the quickest I can/one if by sea, two if by land/I’d cross the world to hold your hand - Sam and Mark have crossed space and time to be together.
No more wrong turns oh I’ve had it with/mistakes, misplaced second chances and/next time I’ll try so much harder/I’m starting to see/what I’ve done to me and you/I’ll chart a course straight to your heart/follow the light from a northern most start/I’ll love, I’ll love like I couldn’t before/I’m here and I’m yours - I love that last bit especially. They can’t be perfect people but they can be perfect for each other. They can love each other better, help each other get better, and try again.