Thursday, October 10, 2013

New Girl 3x04 "The Captain" (In Which Sabo is Still Short for Sabotage)

"The Captain"
Original Airdate: October 8, 2013

I’m a pretty emotional human being.

I chalk this up partially to the fact that I am a woman, but more so to the fact that I am sensitive. I like having deep conversations with friends over coffee or homemade dinners about life. I recently had dinner with my best friend of eleven years – a nice, simple crockpot dinner at my apartment – and as we sat on the couch discussing society’s expectations for us (and our parents’ expectations of us) as young, single woman. After a moment, Simi paused and smiled. “I like that you know exactly what I mean.”

And of course I know exactly what she means. We’ve been friends for half of her life, after all. But it’s more than that, really, and we both understand that in order to have a successful relationship, we have to let one another in. We have to be vulnerable from time to time. And we have to communicate.

Nick and Jess are one of my favorite romantic pairings currently on television. But every romantic pairing, I realize, has flaws and one of the flaws of Nick/Jess is that they are both so fundamentally different and so very stubborn. Jess is a giver, emotionally. She lays her emotions bare for everyone around her. She told Sam that she wanted a relationship with him, even though he rejected her. She admitted that she didn’t love Paul. She walked away from Russell because she wanted passion in their relationship. And, before any of the others came along, Jess was rejected by Spencer. So Jessica Day realizes that there are highs and lows associated with being an emotional giver. And yet… she continues to express herself. She’s not afraid of how she feels.

But Nick is an emotional… well, turtle. Conversing about feelings and emotions and thoughts sends him into short circuit-mode. No, literally, he merely twitches and mumbles incoherently and avoids the topic altogether. And Nick is this way because his relationships have drained him, emotionally. He was rejected by Caroline. He was never shown a lot of love by his father. He bounced from woman to woman without committing. If Jess is an emotional giver, then Nick is an emotional hermit. He recognizes the truth that emotions and feelings make relationships complex. They can often, even, cause aforementioned relationships to go awry and dissolve. Nick, then, in his typical Nick Miller-ness, would much rather avoid confrontation (of any kind, as we saw in last week’s episode) because it preserves him.

There are threads woven together in Nick and Jess’ story that continue to surface. And they’re not plot threads, per se: they’re character personality traits. Nick expressed in “All In” that he did not want to lose Jess. In “Nerd,” we saw how he protected her – how she was his “old lady” and that meant he had to do everything in his power to keep her safe and happy. In “Double Date,” Nick avoided confronting Schmidt about his infidelity, but did so once he realized that – if he didn’t – Jess would be the one to suffer. In “The Captain,” we see this aspect of Nick’s personality surface which I think is truly intriguing: his desire to preserve his relationship with Jess.

Now, Schmidt’s arc this season has also been about preservation. But, it is important to note that Nick’s arc centers around the turtle-faced bartender trying to preserve the joy and stability of his new relationship with Jess. Schmidt, however, is focused entirely on self-preservation which – obviously – is selfish and only destructive in the end. But I truly appreciated the depth that this arc is providing me with in terms of Schmidt’s characterization. There were some truly fantastic moments in “The Captain,” which I’ll discuss in a bit.

Returning to our Nick/Jess conversation briefly, it’s important to understand how fundamentally different Nick and Jess are as characters in order for us to comprehend the weight that the resolution of this episode provides. I think that I, often times, know how different Nick and Jess can be as characters, but beyond that I tend to forget that they not only have different personality types but process information differently and handle conflict differently and see the world differently. The question then arises: how can Nick and Jess have a lasting, substantial relationship if they are so different? The answer to that is not as simple as the question, of course. But the simple answer is that compromise is both an inevitability and also a necessity.

So let’s discuss Nick and Jess’ relationship in “The Captain,” Schmidt’s attempt to sabotage it, and the possibility that Winston was the most sane person in the loft this week, shall we?

“The Captain” focuses on Nick and Jess’ one month anniversary, which means that they are still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship and are basically taking advantage of everything that entails. All the time. But the opening of this episode is a great bit of foreshadowing what’s to come – Nick and Jess are lying in bed together and Jess suggests that perhaps they take a break from their amorous activities and discuss their thoughts, fears, dreams, visions, and/or feelings. This, of course, sends Nick into a short-circuit and he quickly changes the subject.

Schmidt, meanwhile, is not pleased with the new romantic development in the loft and he’s even less pleased that he has to hear it day after day. Winston, having crafted a special survival kit (complete with a blindfold, noise-cancelling earmuffs, and a bell to tie around his neck to alert Nick and Jess of his approach), tells his other roommate that he’ll just have to learn to adapt and lay low. But this, of course, does not sit well with Schmidt.

Winston then makes the first attempt we see in “The Captain” to try and force Schmidt to address his issues head-on, rather than project his feelings of guilt and anger on Nick and Jess’ happiness. The fact is that Schmidt wants Nick and Jess to suffer because HE is suffering. “But that’s selfish!” you insist. I concur, of course, and I will not make excuses for Schmidt’s behavior. As Winston notes, Schmidt had the potential to be happy – he could have chosen either Elizabeth or Cece and WOULD have been happy with one. Instead, the man continues, Schmidt chose the selfish and cowardly act and it resulted in him ending up alone and miserable.

I found that I didn’t have pity for Schmidt in this episode, but I am growing to understand him more and more as this season continues. I don’t condone his behavior. I don’t think he was right to cheat on Elizabeth and Cece, nor do I think he is right in his relentless and selfish pursuit to break Nick and Jess up so that everyone will suffer as much as he is suffering. But I do think that Schmidt intentionally taps into a truth about Nick and Jess’ relationship that they – and we – are blind to. But more on that topic in a little bit.

Winston spends the episode being a little too into his cat, but oddly perceptive and wise when it comes to the loft dynamic and relationships within it. When Winston reveals to Nick and Jess that Ferguson will have to be neutered, the couple jokes that Winston should throw his cat a bachelor party – one last hurrah before his vet trip. They then exchange worried glances when Winston whispers “it’s happening” and carries the cat out of the room.

I love that Winston’s stories this season, so far, have been random and crazy. I love that I’m always unsure of who the straight man in the loft is from week to week. And I think that what I love the most is that there IS no true “straight man” in New Girl. I once believed that Nick – surly, grumpy, sour-faced Nick Miller – was the straight man of the show: that he would be the one to call other characters out on their insane shenanigans. But Nick Miller is weird. And Schmidt is weird. And Winston is weird. And Jess is weird. And actually, that’s kind of the most beautiful thing about this series: at any given point in time, each of the characters can have a moment or episode or arc of crazy. But they can confront one another about their behavior and balance each other out specifically because they are ALL crazy. And though Winston’s storyline throughout “The Captain” appears to be the most insane (and he recognizes that what he is doing is insane), when the other loft members are confronted about their behavior at the end of the episode, Winston acknowledges that HE is the most sane one. And he knows that there is something wrong with that picture.

Nevertheless, Winston spends the episode looking for a mate (or, I suppose a one-time lover) for his cat. In the loft, Schmidt presents Nick and Jess with a one-month anniversary cake, insisting that he is happy for them both. The couple is wildly suspicious, specifically because of Schmidt’s threat at the end of “Double Date” to break them up at all costs. When Nick confronts Schmidt about presenting him and Jess with the cake, Schmidt feigns happiness… while getting inside of Nick’s head.

What I think is really interesting – and ingenious of him, albeit in a shrewd way – is that Schmidt knows EXACTLY how to target Nick and Jess’ insecurities. He utilizes tactics that target Nick’s emotional insecurities and Jess’ physical insecurities because he knows those areas are where they are each, respectively, weakest. Jess is an emotional human being but still relatively inexperienced and uncertain still in the bedroom. Nick, conversely, is tormented by Schmidt’s emotional manipulation throughout the episode. But Nick – beautiful white man that he is – approaches Schmidt already defensive and upset. He’s trying to protect Jess and protect their relationship. He doesn’t know, frankly, how long he has until he inevitably screws everything up (in his mind, because this is self-sabotaging Nick Miller we’re talking about after all) and wants to spend every minute possible before he does with Jess.

It’s taken me too long to mention that this episode was written by J.J. Philbin who is both a fantastic person and writer for this series and – of course – wrote my second-favorite episode of a comedy series ever when she penned “Injured” (the only half-hour sitcom episode that edges that one out is “Remedial Chaos Theory”). What I love about J.J. as a writer is how completely and utterly well she understands Nick Miller as a person. She knows his motivations. She knows what scares him. She knows where he is weak and she knows where he’s grown and still needs to grow as a person. “Injured” and “The Captain” both center around one truth: Nick over-thinks. He over-thinks his relationships. He over-thinks his decisions. He over-thinks to the point that he becomes paralyzed and cannot even MAKE decisions. Schmidt knows this. And we know this, as well. (But no one knows it better than J.J. and I love the parallels – however inconsequential – between both of these episodes.)

It’s revealed to us, through Schmidt and Nick’s conversation, that the latter has only had one relationship that lasted more than a month – Caroline. But Nick is trying to be honest with Schmidt and tells him that he’s really happy with Jess. (Schmidt of course isn’t concerned with how happy Nick is or isn’t and continues to get inside of his best friend’s head, pinpointing his exact weaknesses: being anxious, over-thinking, and panicking.) When Nick departs the conversation and heads back to Jess’ bedroom, he feels good.

… Until he doesn’t. Schmidt, as it turns out, HAS gotten into Nick’s head which has made him unable to perform and sends him into a panic (he insists that he’s exiting the room in order to move his car), leaving Jess helpless.

Elsewhere in the episode, Winston arrives at the pet store and meets a cute blonde woman picking up her female cat at the groomer. She unfortunately assumes that he is interested in her, rather than her cat, Fatty, and agrees to go on a date.

In the kitchen the following morning, Jess and Nick are eating cereal and avoiding confrontation. Jess, of course decides to breach the subject and this only causes Nick to rush out of the room… just in time for Schmidt to rush in. Jess is actually quite cool toward Schmidt in this episode, which is pretty in-character behavior. She expresses that she doesn’t trust him. And, much like How I Met Your Mother’s “How Lily Stole Christmas” caused Lily to realize that Ted’s frustrations stemmed from her running out on HIM, not just Marshall, “The Captain” subtly hints that part of the reason Jess cannot trust Schmidt is not because he betrayed Cece, but because he betrayed HER.

Still, she is desperate and when Schmidt tempts Jess, she succumbs to his lies. It’s important to know that the reason she does this is because of what I stated earlier – Schmidt pinpoints Jess’ insecurities. It’s sneaky and wrong, but he knows that Jess has never been the most physically confident in relationships. She struggles and is uncertain and Nick is far more experienced than she is and Schmidt KNOWS this. He knows that Jess isn’t confident in that area and when she asks for his advice, he sabotages her. But he also uses an interesting tactic, too, by tapping into his previous conversation with Nick – Schmidt appeals to Jess’ desire to do anything to keep her relationship with Nick intact. And then, after Jess succumbs to the temptation, Schmidt begins telling her about a move called “The Captain” (which I presume he just invents off the top of his head) that Nick supposedly enjoys. The woman buys the story because she’s willing to do anything to keep her relationship with Nick from falling apart… except actually address their issues and concerns rather than mask them behind their physical intimacy.

Jess attempts “The Captain”… but this only leads to more awkwardness between her and Nick. Jess, in typical Jess fashion, decides that they need to communicate. But Nick? Well, Nick isn’t exactly an expert at communication. He doesn’t know how to tell Jess – or anyone, really – how he feels. And while I know that Nick cannot communicate his emotions effectively, I’ve never really contemplated the fact that he doesn’t communicate ANYTHING effectively. He can’t tell Schmidt that he cares about him (which does, of course, lead to one of the best exchanges of this entire series). He can’t confront his friends. He can’t be upfront with Jess or anyone else about his feelings, and in “The Captain” that inability or unwillingness begins to affect his relationship.

Because the truth of the matter is that Nick’s avoidance of confrontation and discussions involving feelings and thoughts – to him – seem like a good idea. In fact, they seem like a way to PREVENT fights from occurring. If you want to maintain a peaceful relationship, wouldn’t a lack of conflict be better than conflict and arguing? Logically that might seem like a plausible solution, but the reality is that avoiding confrontation actually leads to a less healthy relationship, as Nick is about to discover. He tries to tell Jess how he felt about The Captain but… he can’t. He mumbles and mutters but doesn’t ACTUALLY tell her how he feels.

And this frustrates Jess.

It’s understandable that it would, of course. I would be frustrated with Nick, too. But here’s the real kicker: Nick then becomes upset when Jess lets it slip that she went to Schmidt for advice. The irony, of course, is that NICK refused to have a conversation with his girlfriend regarding their relationship. And therefore, his avoidance led to Jess seeking out the advice of someone else – someone who WOULD communicate. As much as I do believe that Jess is happy with Nick (because he makes her so happy), what she needs is someone who will make the effort to communicate with her. That is what will sustain a relationship. And what Nick needs is someone who will occasionally do the listening and let HIM do the talking. That is what HE needs to sustain a relationship. But Nick and Jess are great at avoidance and sweeping their issues under the rug, and it backfires on them in this episode thanks to Schmidt.

This is the point in the episode in which I realized that Schmidt, in attempting to sabotage Nick and Jess’ relationship, actually made me recognize a flaw in Nick and Jess’ relationship. It’s not often that the “villain” allows you to recognize a truth, but Schmidt did. When Nick and Jess angrily confront their roommate about his role in ruining their relationship, Schmidt pinpoints the true flaw in their relationship: an imbalance of communication. Jess communicates too much; Nick never communicates. Schmidt is right, though – he placed a mere pebble in the path of Nick and Jess. His conflict was insignificant in comparison to the conflict they might experience in the future. And while he sought to destroy the couple, he actually AIDED them in recognizing something they hadn’t been willing to address before.

And as Schmidt Victorious departs, giving Nick one last chance to express his feelings, Nick cannot flounders and short-circuits and says nothing. You can see the disappointment in Jess’ features, as she anticipated that perhaps he would come through for her. But then Nick halts the conversation and Schmidt and actually DOES begin to express his feelings. It’s this absolutely beautiful and perfect moment because Jess is floored and WE are floored and I’m pretty sure NICK is floored.

But he begins to express himself because of this reason: he doesn’t want to lose Jess and he knows that in order to grow with her, he needs to do a bit of growing up himself. Schmidt made him realize that he has never had a long-term relationship apart from Caroline and the reason, perhaps, is because he cannot communicate. But, as he said in “All In,” Jess means so much to Nick that he isn’t willing to lose her, especially not over something as petty as an argument about The Captain. So Nick continues to speak and Jess’ bewilderment grows into adoration and joy when he opens up to her and tells her that she talks too much and continues talking even after she falls asleep (let’s pause and reflect on how adorable that is for a moment). He concludes his Jess-centric feelings time by telling her the truth: he likes her a LOT (I feel that we are rapidly approaching love here, dude), which thrills Jess to no end. And when she attempts to talk to him, she stops herself and lets him continue to express whatever is on his mind (which apparently involves cellos, zebras, and rap music). She learns to compromise and accommodate Nick’s moment of vulnerability, which is so wonderful and beautiful. And perfect.

Nick’s confessions are so earnest and touching because they are so simple. But they’re little nuggets and memories and things that we – as humans – experience throughout our lives and don’t often put into words or share with others. Why I love my best friend is because of things like this: because we share stories about our lives and anecdotes and really anything that comes to our minds because it makes us closer and makes us more connected as human beings and as friends. And Nick, in that moment, feels a surge of energy and suddenly feels much more connected to Jess (and to himself!).

Schmidt, understandably, is very disappointed that his plan at psychological sabotage backfired. So, as a last and desperate resort, he tries to physically tear the two apart and then destroy any potential way for them to continue in their physical relationship. … This includes taking all of Jess’ birth control pills for the week at once.

Winston, meanwhile, is disturbed by all of the commotion that Nick, Jess, and Schmidt are causing and chastises them for ruining Ferguson’s big night. Fatty – the female cat – and her owner then depart, visibly (and understandably) distraught. Winston decides that a loft meeting is in order so that the madness will end for everyone. He notes that there DO need to be boundaries in the loft and that Nick and Jess are partially at fault for parading their romance like they invented it. But then, Winston confronts Schmidt’s behavior, too, and instructs his friend that he needs to stop blaming others for the way that HE screwed up. And when the camera pans over Jess and Nick as they watch Schmidt’s face, we presume that Jess will feel sympathy, as she always does.

Instead, Jess merely says: “You did a bad thing. Deal with it” before leaving the room with Nick. I was, quite honestly, amazed and proud that Jess refused to show Schmidt empathy. I was talking to my good friend Jaime last night about this episode and Schmidt’s redemptive arc, when she said something quite profound:

“Schmidt isn’t going to be redeemed by Cece or Elizabeth forgiving him or by Jess or by anyone else forgetting about it. He’s going to be redeemed by understanding that he might never be forgiven, and by accepting the fact that he did something terrible and that the only thing he can do is accept that Cece and Elizabeth are going to need to move past it.”

A quick fix for this episode would have been for Jess to show empathy for Schmidt. But that wouldn’t be truthful to the characters or the story. Jess isn’t ready to forgive Schmidt for what he did to Cece, nor is she ready to forgive him for what he did to HER. And if this entire cheating arc only proves one thing to me, it is this: Schmidt doesn’t know the type of person that he is. I think, in his mind, he thought he would never be the kind of guy who would cheat on someone he cared about, or on someone period.

But what happens when you do something you thought you would never do? Do you, then, really know ANYTHING about yourself? I think – and hope – that most of this season will be spent exploring this question as it applies to Schmidt’s life. He doesn’t believe that he is a good person anymore, I think, and if he isn’t a good person… well, can he ever become one again? Or is he doomed to remain a terrible person forever? And what MAKES a good person?

These are very deep, very real questions that I am looking forward to seeing answered or at least explored throughout the rest of season three. Schmidt does show a bit of growth at the end of the episode, though – he recognizes, as he sits alone, that he HAS messed up. So he writes Cece a letter and places it on her welcome mat. When Cece walks by with the letter in her hand (and a new man on her arm), Schmidt watches from the steps… as she tosses her gum in the note and into the trashcan.

As I said earlier, it would have been easy for a flicker of a smile to grace Cece’s features as she read Schmidt’s heartfelt note. It would have been trope-y. It would have been stale. It wouldn’t have been true to the characters or to a redemptive arc, though, and I am truly grateful that the team decided that redemption doesn’t come easy.

Back at the loft, Nick surprises Jess with a soundproof room… that isn’t soundproof. Ah, well, Nick TRIED at least. It is then that Jess delivers her own heartfelt message: the past month with Nick has been the best of her life. Nick assures her that he feels the same way and that he’s “never felt this way or had this with anybody.” He then proceeds (as all of the audience melts into a puddle of goo) and says: “It’s like there’s been this fog around my life and with you, all of the sudden, it’s gone.”

Nick Miller, Nick Miller… finally expressing his feelings.

(Of course, much like the rule with dessert consumption, everything is best in moderation, as Nick continues to express his feelings. About everything that’s happening. In every moment.)

Nick and Jess aren’t riding off into the sunset together. That’s never been what this show has focused on, and I doubt highly that it will ever only focus on their relationship, because I wouldn’t want it to. I love Nick and Jess because they’re the soul of this series. And I love Schmidt’s road to redemption. And I love Winston’s sanity in the face of insanity. I love New Girl.

And that’s something I’m definitely NOT afraid to express.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
  • “Nick’s body is so soft, it should absorb sound.”
  • “You think you’re a little too into your cat?”
  • “Why does that make me angrier than anything he’s ever done?”
  • “My diploma says that I majored in Communications, but my heart says that I majored in Nicholas studies.”
  • “If we needed to talk about feelings, they would be called talkings.”
  • “I really like when a rap song uses a choir. It makes me feel really happy. When all those ladies’ voices come in and the guy’s rapping, I think it’s awesome.”
  • “I really like you. And it’s been a month and I’m not scared.”
Thank you all for reading! I'll see you back here next week for my review of "The Box." :)


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