Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New Girl 3x18 "Sister III" (Let's Be Clear: You Really Can't Choose Your Family)

"Sister III"
Original Airdate: March 4, 2014

I’ve had my own room ever since I was a little girl. The first time I had to share a living space with someone – a small, cramped dorm room – was when I went away to college my freshman year. I lived away from home for two years, then transferred back to attend a local university. I had pretty decent living experiences, to be honest: I liked and got along with both of my roommates quite well. But something happens when you share a space too small to really share with someone. Eventually you get on each other’s nerves. Eventually, you’ll have a bad day and your nerves will already be frayed and the way that your roommate intermittently sighs when reading her book or the way that she taps her pen will set you over the edge. You can literally feel yourself bristle and snap in those moments, like lightning just sizzled throughout your entire body. This week on New Girl, each person and pairing learns a concept that is common to that of preschoolers. They learn how to share. Nick and Jess try to really LIVE together by moving into Nick’s bedroom and in the process share a lot more with one another than either is comfortable with; Coach and Cece share a new, friendly bond; Abby and Schmidt over-share in their relationship; and Winston shares his struggles with those darn rings in his fitness test for the police academy. It’s all about adapting to your current circumstances, learning to be brave, and figuring out what you want out of life in “Sister III.” And I quite enjoyed the journey.

This episode was written by Camilla Blackett who is a staff writer for the show and I really enjoyed the humor and substance that she injected into this episode. I think she did a fantastic job balancing and integrating each of the stories (I love when the show overlaps rather than attempts to self-contain the A/B/C stories) and the final Linda Cardellini episode was a spectacular note for her to end on. I’ll mention it in more detail later, but I really love how the show chose to not just resolve the arc but to also grow and develop the character and her relationship with Jess. For as much as Jess argues and disagrees with and mistrusts her sister, she actually looks up to her. While the first two installments of this Abby Day trilogy focused on how at odds the siblings were, “Sister III” managed to remind us that at the end of the day they ARE sisters and therefore value each other’s opinions.

The episode opens with Nick, Jess, Winston, Coach, and Cece at Schmidt (and Abby’s) apartment, having been invited over for brunch. The latter pair are… well, they’re partaking in some pretty heavy PDA. It, rightfully, makes the rest of the group pretty uncomfortable. But Abby sees her relationship with Schmidt differently: she just believes that they’re a strong couple because they have no boundaries. They share everything including, as Schmidt explains later, a sponge. And they partake in intense PDA because they have essentially no shame around each other. Jess is the target of Abby’s explanation and the bespectacled sister spends the entire rest of the episode dwelling on Abby’s remarks. She sets out to prove to herself and to Abby and to everyone else that she and Nick are a stronger couple than Schmidt and Abby, who barely know each other. I’ve never really thought of Jess as a competitive person, but she does tend to be an insecure person. This is her most successful relationship – and arguably the most important one – since Spencer. I think that a part of Jess is so afraid of losing what she has with Nick that she feels the need to constantly prove their worth as a couple to people like her sister. Abby and Jess are polar opposites and the fact of the matter is that they live LIFE differently, too. So deep down perhaps Jess also wants to just prove that her way of doing things, of moving slow and being in a meaningful relationship, ultimately leads to happiness and success, while Abby’s carefree and careless ways do not.

Nevertheless, Schmidt seems to be happy with Abby and is apparently lending her money to further her jewelry business. Cece is skeptical of this, but says nothing at the brunch to Schmidt or anyone else. Schmidt actually seems HAPPY, which is a real change from the person we’ve seen this season. And while I don’t think that Schmidt’s entire betrayal arc is resolved quite yet, I think that the New Girl writers have made strides this season in allowing us to forgive him and allow Cece to forgive him. It doesn’t matter how we feel, really. As much as we like to believe that the characters of our favorite shows are somehow impacted by our feelings toward them, the most important thing is that the OTHER characters on the show forgive Schmidt. Cece’s getting there, I think, and this episode was a stepping stone not toward jealousy but toward concern. It’s one thing for the show to portray her as jealous, right? That’s cliché. It shows more depth in Cece’s character that she actually cares about what happens to Schmidt. Think about it: Cece could have very easily let Schmidt be duped (or what she presumed would happen, at least) by Abby. He would be getting a just reward for the way he treated her during the Cece-Schmidt-Elizabeth debacle, no? But the most important lesson to be learned in this episode is that caring about people is difficult and it sometimes allows our hearts to become more open. Schmidt’s heart was so open with Abby – he trusted her SO much – because I think he just needed to believe that someone out there wanted him. (Isn’t that sad?) And Cece’s concern for Schmidt showed us that she is capable of forgiveness and healing.

(And I just rambled, so I apologize, but I really love the depth in that small story this episode.)

At the loft, Nick and Jess discuss what transpired at brunch. Jess is insistent that Schmidt and Abby are a fake couple and that THEY are the real couple. The next logical step in their progression as a pair would be to live together. Now, there’s a difference between Nick and Jess moving in together (in separate bedrooms) and living together (cramped in the same small bedroom). When you share a bedroom with someone, there are no boundaries. You know every little annoying thing about them, every habit they have, and every part of their routine. Nick and Jess are a strong couple but I think the point of this episode wasn’t that they’re weak because they can’t stand sharing a bedroom together. I think the point was that the space was too small, the timing wasn’t right, and the motivation to share a room in the first place was rooted in something other than complete sincerity. It was rooted, of course, in Jess’ desire to prove something to Abby.

So Nick and Jess decide to live in the same bedroom, both ecstatic about the idea… except that Nick is not. While he expresses his joy to Jess, at the bar he tells Schmidt dozens of reasons why he’s not prepared to share a living space with his girlfriend. Schmidt, meanwhile, is happy and Nick can tell this about his best friend. The former then gives Nick some advice: he tells him to not hold back from intimacy and to learn how to embrace the living situation as an opportunity to be vulnerable with Jess.

Back at the loft, Winston is struggling to climb a rope on the apartment wall while Coach divulges some details: he and Cece have become friends over the past week or so, but she treats him like he’s one of her girl friends. Admittedly, Coach actually enjoys this relationship and has embraced it. Cece too seems so comfortable with the new arrangement that I almost forgot they briefly “dated.” Out of all of the dynamics this week, I think I enjoyed this one the most, as it was refreshing to see the pair not only interacting but also doing so without dredging up their short romantic past. And Coach, too, seems perfectly content in his new relationship. I think the Coach/Cece friendship is especially beneficial to the man because he has such difficulty interacting with women.  (We saw this in the pilot episode with Jess.) A friendship with Cece could definitely open him up to becoming a more rounded character.

Cece bursts into the loft and she and Coach decide to snoop around Schmidt’s apartment, looking for any signs that Abby might be working some sort of con on the man. Schmidt surprises the pair by entering and that’s when Cece takes the opportunity to explain to Schmidt that she knows Abby better than he does. She has been around her for twenty years, and Schmidt hasn’t even been around her for twenty DAYS. Schmidt’s expression visibly changes upon hearing Cece’s words. He explains that Abby has changed, but Cece doesn’t buy it. It’s this subtle moment that we see Schmidt’s resolve start to falter and he remembers, undoubtedly, the way he’s treated people throughout the years and the ways he’s claimed to have changed. So he agrees to tail his girlfriend with Cece and Coach the following night.

Speaking night, Jess settles into bed (I love that her comforter is atop Nick’s bed now) and she and Nick begin their first night of “living together,” which includes Nick wearing what can only be described as a nightgown, placing his dirty feet at the top of the bed, and Jess nearly blinding her boyfriend with her reading light. All in all, it’s a good start to the evening. It’s SO good that Jess begins to panic and heads across the hall to her old room, her sanctuary and comfort and fallback plan… which has been turned into Winston’s personal gym. With no back-up plan, Jess realizes she has to endure all of Nick’s quirks for the remainder of the evening and probably forever in that tiny little room and suddenly, the woman isn’t so keen on living with him.

The problem with Nick and Jess in this episode is the problem that Jess and Abby had in “Sister II”: the refusal to communicate honestly with one another. In last week’s episode, we saw hijinks upon hijinks and manipulation ensue because the two women couldn’t put aside their pride and egos long enough to communicate what they honestly felt. In “Sister III,” it is Nick and Jess who have this problem. Had one or the other merely confessed that living in the same room was a bad idea, everything would have been resolved. Instead, the following morning – in order to escape Nick – Jess sits on a stool in the elevator, reading her book and eating a snack. When Abby enters and informs her sister that she and Schmidt had paid to stay in a hotel room that they didn’t end up using and offers it to Jess and Nick… well, Jess jumps at the opportunity to be alone. So she packs up her stuff, claims she’s taking kids on a field trip, and leaves the loft to embark on a night spent in a room by herself.

In the loft, Winston confesses to Nick that he’s worried about one specific part of the LAPD fitness test: the rings. And Winston has good reason to be concerned about this after Nick pantsed him as a kid. (Nick is unapologetic for that, by the way, and actually pantses Winston AGAIN to get out of an awkward moment with Jess. This will come back to bite him later in the episode.) Nick really is having difficulty adjusting to living in the same room as Jess, as she’s beginning to slowly take over all of his space. So when Jess hurriedly tells him that she’s chaperoning a field trip to Sacramento and has to spend the night at a hotel, he doesn’t even question her and practically shoves his girlfriend out the door.

Later that night, Coach and Cece and Schmidt sit outside a sketchy-looking building in the sketchiest neighborhood in American or the western hemisphere in order to spy on Abby. I’ll admit it – I was on board with Cece’s plan because it seemed logical to me that Abby would try to take advantage of Schmidt. She seems very much like a cut-and-run character, right? Schmidt feels guilty though for not trusting Abby and tries to leave. And this is when he ends up hitting a parked car with Cece’s car. Whoops.

In the least sketchy part of town, Jess enters her swanky hotel room for the night and celebrates her freedom in the greatest mini-montage since “Cooler.” (Jess likes to do the most random things when she’s alone, doesn’t she?) After flailing on her giant bed, ordering room service, treating herself to champagne and dancing, Jess continues to revel in being alone. It really IS such a difference from “Cooler,” where Jess was alone in the apartment and was completely bored out of her mind. Here, Jess CELEBRATES being alone rather than lamenting it. Because alone time in “Cooler” meant rejection, but alone time in “Sister III” means freedom.

Back in the SketchyVille, our ragtag trio gets out of their car in order to determine where the damage is and where they hit the parked car. The parked car is beat-up, to say the least. Actually, it’s more or less falling apart and when the gang decides to investigate further, they’re scared away by a homeless person who awakens in the vehicle. It’s just then that Abby emerges from one of the buildings with a box in her hands. As she approaches Schmidt, Cece, and Coach, Cece accuses Abby of trying to con Schmidt. She refuses to let that happen to him and is insistent on protecting her ex-boyfriend. Abby then opens the box to reveal… zippers, presumably for her jewelry-making business. I was surprised and so were Coach and Cece. But I have to commend New Girl on not making Abby into the villain of this arc. I love the fact that she may be wild and she may be emotionally unstable and yes, she’s also selfish and reckless, but she actually cares about Schmidt for what it’s worth. She wasn’t trying to con him and she wasn’t trying to run away with his money. It would have been trope-y for her to do so, but I enjoy that Abby is actually an okay person at the end of “Sister III.”

On the beach, Winston is desperately trying to overcome his fear of the rings but is unable to do so. Instead, he scuttles inside to the hotel where the rings are hosted, and as he’s complaining to the front desk, runs into Jess. They’re both stunned and it’s pretty awkward. She makes Winston swear not to tell Nick about where she was but… well, Winston does anyway because we all know that Winston cannot keep a secret to save his life. But Nick takes this secret as the opportunity to finally do what he is never able to do: pull one over on Jess and be RIGHT.

At a coffee shop, which I now realize is probably Artie’s, Coach and Cece are furthering their friendship but the former is concerned with the latter’s desire to prove that Abby is bad for Schmidt. In a hilarious little exchange, Coach asks Cece to determine WHY she’s being so protective over Schmidt. The woman contemplates this, and we do too. As I noted earlier, I believe the reason for Cece’s protectiveness has more to do with her slowly forgiving Schmidt than it does her being jealous of Abby. It’s a sweet Schmidt/Cece moment though, where she admits that she didn’t want him to be taken advantage of and that she knows he will do anything for the people he cares about. I’m glad that we’re beginning to grow toward a place of understanding between these two once again. I’d like to see a friendship blossom more than anything because when you think about it, they never really HAD a friendship to begin with.

Nick’s attempt to pull one over on Jess actually fails pretty miserably when she manages to lie through her teeth about where she was. Nick explains that he KNOWS where she was and that sharing a room was driving her crazy. Winston – in retaliation for being pantsed earlier – tells Jess that Nick feels the same way about sharing a living space. And the two are back to square one, where Jess feels as if they are inferior to Schmidt and Abby as a couple and probably just a poor excuse for a couple in general. Their mini-argument ends with Jess asking: “Why can’t we do this?”
 In response, Nick admits: “I don’t know.” This drives Jess to the bar where she sits, alone, until Abby joins her at the table. Exasperated, Jess explains that Abby wins and the sister looks bewildered at this admission. Abby explains that she doesn’t win; she admits to having a lot of flings, which Jess thinks is adventurous. She believes that Abby is brave for traveling the world and refusing to settle down. Jess equates this with strength, but Abby equates it with fear and cowardice.

In a pretty beautiful moment, Abby tells Jess that SHE is the brave one – having a real, meaningful relationship with Nick and struggling to make it work? That is what Abby believes to be truly brave: the idea that you would commit yourself to one thing or one idea or one person. Abby is a hurricane; she travels around the world and she picks up things and people and when she has no more use for them, she leaves with a trail of destruction following her. She admits that she doesn’t want to be alone and that this is the reason she keeps throwing herself, headfirst into relationships and ideas and places. This beautiful little moment is my favorite out of the entire arc because it exemplifies how similar but different Jess and Abby are. They both have the same fears in the end, but Jess has learned to embrace being alone as something of a joy. She’s been where Abby has been – she’s been scared to be by herself; that’s why she found roommates on Craigslist and moved into a loft with them. But what Jess knows to be true is this: you need to find yourself in order to sort yourself out. Abby admits to not knowing who she is, and Jess encourages her to figure that out, rather than continuing to throw herself into superficial relationships.

At the loft, Nick and Jess have a conversation that is both hilarious and also sweet. While they agree that they love each other, they also understand that sharing a space that essentially is as large as a dorm room probably isn’t the best for their respective sanities. (Nick also utters the words “not like this,” when describing the fact that he wants to live with Jess, just under different circumstances and I had a “Cooler” flashback in that moment. I regret nothing.) Honestly, the conversation is delightful because they both admit to wanting to stay together and live together somewhere larger and with more space. Unfortunately for Nick and Jess, that’s not actually an option anymore when Schmidt enters and explains that Abby moved back to Oregon with her mother in order to save up to become independent. (Jess’ words clearly had an impact on her sister.) That means that Schmidt is alone, but also broke as he rented out a storefront window for Abby’s jewelry business that has a lease of three years. Under the circumstances, Schmidt decides to move  back into the loft and stay in Jess’ room, since that room is no longer being occupied.

Nick and Jess’ faces reveal that they’re spiraling slowly into panic. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to be uncertain of the future. It’s even okay to dislike some things about your partner or spouse. But if the gang learned anything in “Sister III” it’s that being brave often means sharing and so long as you have someone to share it with, you’ll be all right.

Additional de-lovely aspects of the episode include:
  • Nick hoarding his food from Jess is how I am whenever I have a plate of food.
  • “Four walls, no boundaries, no escape!” “Well, when you put it that way it sounds amazing. And like prison.”
  • “Expose your cracks and love will fill them.”
  • “You look like a little match girl wandering around Victorian England selling matches for a penny.”
  • “All my lovers can fit in one SUV. And yes, maybe someone would have to sit on someone else’s lap but they would all fit.”
Thank you all for reading! I’ll be back next week with a review of “Fired Up”! Until then, folks. :)


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