Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New Girl 3x20 "Mars Landing" (Two Roads Diverged)


"Mars Landing"
Original Airdate: March 25, 2014

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- "The Road Not Taken," Robert Frost

People break up for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because you’re forced into a long-distance situation and cannot find a way to make the relationship work. Sometimes it’s because a person cheats or lies. Sometimes it’s because you fall out of love. And sometimes it’s because you realize that you’re not the same people you once were and have been growing in different directions. Nick and Jess have never seen eye-to-eye on… well, anything. From the inception of the series, Nick Miller was a curmudgeonly bartender who was opposed to feelings and responsibilities. Jess was this quirky, lively, optimistic and bubbly young woman who moved into the loft and challenged Nick on every level. She sang about her feelings; he made a turtle face. She gave people the benefit of the doubt; he did not because people, to him, are the worst and always disappoint. Sometimes na├»ve, Jess was always the bright ray of sunshine to Nick’s often Eeyore-like persona. They had chemistry though, even in the beginning, which drew them to one another. Of course, this chemistry culminated in last season’s “Cooler,” arguably one of the best episodes that New Girl has ever done. “Cooler” marked the upswing for the series, as every episode to follow was top-notch and fired on all cylinders (it’s the standard by which I judge every other sitcom series, to be honest). This show had always been rooted in Jess as a character and her journey, but now it had become about this relationship between Nick and Jess – the arguable heart of the series. Even when they weren’t romantically involved, Nick and Jess always had a connection with one another and understood each other and sought each other out more than any other character in the loft.

“Mars Landing” focuses on a shift in dynamic, some pretty devastatingly beautiful parallels to “Cooler,” and a shake-up that I’m processing but accepting. Alert: If you haven’t watched the episode yet, I’m about to drop some major spoiler bombs on you so stop reading this sentence. “Mars Landing” sees the breakup of Nick and Jess. Well, it sees the uncoupling of Nick and Jess (it’s never stated explicitly that they’re breaking up; they simply express the desire to return to their pre-relationship state so, okay, maybe they ARE broken up/on a break… so many Friends memories typing that phrase) and it’s both painful and necessary because at some point, this had to happen. Liz and Brett and Dave have always known and expressed the notion that Nick and Jess are two very messed up, very broken and very different individuals. And, to be honest, I really enjoy the fact that unlike some other series, these showrunners didn’t say: “But look! Look at all the chemistry they have; let’s get them engaged because we want to keep our core audience – the people who are ‘shipping’ Nick and Jess.” The truth is that real relationships don’t progress from point A to point B like we want them to or think they should. The truth is that there are bumps and mishaps and problems along the way, and Nick/Jess has never been a pairing that would have it easy in the show.

The real truth of the matter is that Nick and Jess’ relationship went from zero to sixty, as they noted in “All In.” They had been officially dating for an hour and already lived together. There’s that unique complication of them already being roommates, even though they JUST began a relationship. And both Nick and Jess know, in their heart of hearts, that being in a relationship together would only magnify their own personality flaws. Jess is optimistic, but mildly obsessed with the idea of having a plan and having the perfect home by the perfect lake with her perfect children. But even THAT is problematic, as Nick notes and I’ll discuss later: you can’t plan everything in life. When you start to do that, you get obsessed with the notion of control and that you can somehow warp people and events into your plan and that’s just not possible. Nick, on the other hand, is a bit emotionally and maturity-wise stunted. He’s improved a lot over the years, don’t get me wrong. But he’s got his own set of issues because of that: he doesn’t like planning, in any way, shape, or form. He also makes a lot of valid points to Jess about plans and her expectations of him in this episode and I’ll expand on those momentarily, too. As much as Nick has grown and as much as Jess has, too, they’re just not quite at a stable point in a relationship where they’re following the same vision. And it’s mature of them, I think, to ask the question: “What if loving each other just isn’t enough?”

Because the fact is that so many people stay in relationships with other people and compromise their values and their visions because they don’t want to lose the person they’re with. It’s fine for a while, to kind of coast like that, but eventually you hit a fork in the road and realize that those forks may lead toward the same clearing a mile down through the forest but… what if they don’t? What if they wind and twist and turn and you actually end up further apart because of your decision to stay together?

Nick and Jess wonder this aloud. We wonder it, too. But what we never wonder is whether or not these two crazy kids love each other. They do. They honestly and truly and profusely love each other. But sometimes that just isn’t enough. Love can do a lot of things, but it’s no match for the thick brush and tangled branches that line the separate forks in a relationship. But before I delve too deeply into the themes of “Mars Landing,” the ending that made me sob like a child, and the very “Cooler”-esque B-story, let’s recap the episode, shall we?

“Mars Landing” sees the return of everyone’s favorite drinking game: True American! (Apart from the Douchebag Jar, this is the best pop culture contribution New Girl has ever made and will probably ever make.) I am going to try to locate every “Cooler” reference I possibly can, and I love that this episode harkens us back to the game that changed everything last season and changed everything this season as well. I especially feel that Nina Pedrad and Josh Malmuth deserve major kudos for writing such a great episode that paralleled last season, but also forged the path toward the final three episodes. Additionally, I cannot express how amazing Lynn Shelton’s direction of “Mars Landing” was. Every nod to “Cooler” made my heart hurt in the absolute best way possible, especially the final Nick/Jess hallway shot which I’ll discuss later on in more depth. (Seriously, I cannot gush about Shelton's work in this episode enough.)

As is typical with our New Girl characters, True American wrecks them. The following morning finds all of the characters majorly hungover because apparently True American 3.0 does that to people. Either that, or our characters realize that they’re getting older and cannot consume the amount of alcohol they once did. As an aside, I read the comments in The AV Club review for the episode (I really should refrain from doing that to spare my sanity), and someone pointed out how it’s strange and slightly off-putting to them that every “major” moment has involved alcohol or painkillers, the latter in reference to “Injured.” My belief is this: people are really bad at expressing their feelings when they’re sober. They think through their actions with such meticulousness and intensity so that they do not damage a relationship or shift a status quo. Those unspoken fears and doubts and irritations surface only when you lose the ability to completely process your actions, i.e. when you’re drunk or intoxicated. What Nick and Jess cannot allow themselves to express sober for fear of losing each other, they manage to convey when they’re hungover. Those truths bubble to the surface because the intoxication breaks down the part of their brains that over-think actions and consequences. That is why Nick kissed Jess in “Cooler.” That is why they slept together in “Virgins.” That is why they drove off together in “Elaine’s Big Day.” Their judgment wasn’t impaired, really. Their fears simply shrunk. In “Mars Landing,” we see how Nick and Jess’ respective hangovers make everything about their relationship more real: how they recognize the fact that they cannot pretend to be fine when they’re hungover; they cannot laugh away their flaws and differences like they do when they’re sober. Those issues, much like themselves, are laid bare – cold and illuminated.

Nick and Jess wake up the following morning extremely hungover from the epic True American game the night before to the sound of Jess’ phone ringing – it’s Sadie and she’s wondering where Jess is because she’s late for Sadie’s son’s birthday party. If it’s any consolation to our favorite romantic duo, Coach, Winston, Cece, and Schmidt are all equally hungover the following morning as well. For the men, it was the worst possible day to be in that state as they finally got to meet the two attractive young women who were moving into Apartment 4C. Winston has a plan of action, though, in order to make amends: he’s going to help the women move. If you’ve never heard the phrase “the simplest solution is often the right one,” then hear it now and apply it to the boys’ story. Winston is logical but Schmidt and Coach decide that they’ll find some other way to woo the women and it’ll be better. Remember how I noted that this episode was a parallel to “Cooler”? Recall that the boys’ storyline in that episode also revolved around them fighting over a woman’s attention. Carry on!

Cece enters and explains to the boys that she drunk-texted Buster the night before and needs their help in order to repair whatever damage she managed to do. (Also recall that in “Cooler,” Cece was dealing with her own embarrassment and boy problems with Shivrang. Again: carry on!) And while Winston suggests the idea to help their new neighbors move, the other men shoo him away so they can discuss their own (better) plan. I don’t have much to add to the B-plot in terms of character development, though I did find it quite funny this week. I will say that I loved Winston getting a chance to actually shine, to be right, and to smack some literal sense into his roommates while still managing to be the weird, wonderful Winston that we all know and love.

Back at Nick and Jess’ room, the pair are dressing and trying to get ready for Sadie’s son’s party, when Jess notices that Nick never put the one-year old’s toy together. (I’m with Nick on this one: you don’t put a toy together; you leave it in the box to give to the parents and child!) Jess is having an emotional breakdown as it is because that’s apparently how she gets when she’s hungover, so Nick tries to placate her. As Jess emotionally babbles about Nick’s inability to put together the toy, she lets it slip that she thinks about what it will be like when they have kids. This takes Nick aback and rightfully so: it doesn’t seem like they ever talked about having children. And we all know Nick’s default response to uncomfortable situations: he panic-moonwalks away. Nick Miller has grown over the years but it doesn’t mean he isn’t still that same scared, insecure man-child deep down that we saw in the pilot and in “Wedding” sometimes. And that’s okay, it really is. Just like it’s okay that sometimes Jess gets too overbearing or expects too much from the people around her (“Birthday”; “The Box”; the “Sister” arc, etc.). These are facets of personalities that are not taps or switches; you cannot turn them on and off at will.

Nick warns Jess that they shouldn’t be talking about these things – these big, important, life-altering things – when six hours ago, they were acting like college students. But Jess pursues the conversation after elaborately detailing her whole life plan to Nick and Nick freezes up. Meanwhile, Coach and Schmidt are trying desperately to sober up and stage a run-in with their new neighbors outside of the elevator. Unbeknownst to them, Winston has already intercepted the young women but not because he’s desperate to make a move: as he states earlier in the episode, he genuinely enjoys helping people. Aww. Schmidt and Coach are not amused at this tactic.

Jess is still trying to talk about her future with Nick and the two are really at an impasse because they both have insane visions for the future (Nick wants to live at Mars Landing; Jess wants a horse in the backyard. Nick thinks about being a long-haul trucker; Jess pictures her children being so creative that they name themselves) that cannot remotely coincide. But it’s who they are, really: they both dream big and they both are kind of crazy at times and they both can be stubborn. Jess is becoming defeated as she realizes how little she and Nick have in common in their future-planning. Oh, and she’s still really hungover.

In Apartment 4C, Schmidt and Coach are resenting Winston for forcing them, essentially, into helping the women move in. It’s only after they start to unpack the belongings that the men realize one of the women has a serious boyfriend. When Michelle reveals that she’s single and just looking to have fun, the men have decidedly located their target. (… Okay, that sounds wrong.) And just like in “Cooler,” when the men spot an attractive woman, it’s every man for himself.

Back at the loft, Nick and Jess are arguing about their future and it’s getting more and more heated because the visions are becoming more and more elaborate. Rather than have a loose idea of a plan, both Nick and Jess’ future visions grow more and more absurd as they construct an almost parallel-reality in their heads. And as they try to mash the two visions together, they find that they cannot make them work. Now, the problem in “Mars Landing” is that while Nick and Jess are mature in some ways, they’re immature in others. They’re so immature, in fact, that they hold onto elaborately constructed visions of their future and refuse to compromise or let life merely happen to them because that vision – that picture that they have in their heads – looks so appealing and so COMFORTING. That’s the real kicker, here: these visions give both Nick and Jess a false sense of security, almost as if they can somehow manipulate their lives into those daydreams.

Now, Nick makes a lot of valid points throughout the episode. And he expresses some really wonderful and insightful notions, including this one:
“Can I actually be very real with you for a second? Here’s what I really believe: you can create a plan for your life, and then crazy things get thrown at ya. And that, by the way, is the closest thing that I have to a plan. So maybe it’s crazy to think about being an intergalactic truck driver. But what I think is crazier is trying to plan every single detail of our future.”
Remember this: Nick has grown a lot over the course of the few years on New Girl. He’s faced a cancer scare, recovered from his breakup with Caroline, met and fell in love with Jess, and he’s evolved. The words that Walt spoke to Nick in the flashback during “Virgins”? Those are the words that propelled him to go after Jess. Because he recognized the fact that if he kept over-thinking and over-planning every detail of his life, he was going to miss out on an adventure that would possibly be the BEST thing in his life. Jess is, conversely, so consumed with the idea of having a plan and making lists and meeting goals that she often misses out on opportunities to have adventures. But it’s because she was hurt by Spencer – it’s because she was so broken before she moved into the loft that she feels the need to plan and to control, I think. She enjoys daydreaming as anyone else does. But what SHE desires most of all is structure and logic and to know that wherever she is headed is safe and happy and painless and that Nick is headed there with her.

So the couple is at another impasse and Nick asks: “What are you saying? Should we just break up?” There’s a dramatic pause, a commercial break, and then the pair begin to laugh. Of course they shouldn’t break up! Because that would be absurd… right? Because just as things got real and serious and filled with the bad kind of tension, Nick and Jess hit their default button. They wouldn’t break up; they couldn’t. They’d laugh off their argument and talk about their compromises and in any other sitcom, that would have been the last five minutes of the episode and next week would have seen the couple completely back to normal, as if nothing had happened.

But something DID happen and it’s a big something that I think Nick and Jess know they cannot really ignore. However, being together and headed in completely different directions is better – momentarily – than facing the future without each other. So they decide to work on building the toy for Sadie’s son.

Schmidt, Coach, and Winston are unloading their new neighbors’ belongings from the moving truck and the first two men are getting absolutely nowhere with Michelle because let’s face it: they’re not the best at picking up women. Winston, meanwhile, is being genuinely helpful. So there’s that. But Schmidt and Coach are beginning to get a bit feistier in trying to win the woman’s affection so they begin to fight and it’ hilarious. What’s not hilarious is that they destroy some of Michelle’s things in the process. Winston, meanwhile, is appalled at the behavior of his friends (and is hilariously wearing everything anyone could ever need in order to move furniture).

Back up in the loft, Nick and Jess are really struggling to put the toy together and by that I mean that they put it together and it’s fashioned with an entire roll of duct tape. Throughout the process, they’re using a sugar-coated tone to cover the mounting irritation and frustration they have with one another. The begin to fight, again, this time with Nick yelling in exasperation: “What do you want from me, Jess?” Jess wants Nick to take on more responsibility and Nick want Jess to trust him more. Unfortunately, both are difficult tasks to accomplish when Nick accidentally sets his blanket on fire and the entire apartment has to be evacuated. Now, I know that a lot of people had mixed feelings about this episode and about this season and about the Nick/Jess dissolution. While I will talk about the final scene momentarily, I think that “Mars Landing” did the best that it could to remind us of how different Nick and Jess are. The breakup felt a bit odd, but only because “Fired Up” had very little Nick and Jess interaction. Had “Fired Up” aired before “Sister III,” and we were able to see how difficult it was for Nick and Jess to live together and how much they fought, I think the “Mars Landing” ending might have felt a bit more reasonable. As it was, I don’t think the breakup is entirely out of place but I also wish we had gotten one Nick/Jess fight episode directly before this one.

Jess packs a powerful punch when she explains to Nick: “If I was always honest with you, then we would never stop fighting.” Ouch.  The two don’t have much time to dwell on Jess’ statement though, because the fire alarm goes off. Outside, Schmidt and Coach try to pin Michelle’s broken things on Winston but the man has had enough and explains exactly what has been happening to the stunned and possibly frightened young women before carrying a giant piece of Michelle’s furniture into the building.

Meanwhile, Cece calls Buster to explain her drunk texts and they’re cute and yadda yadda, Cece’s in a C-plot (like “Cooler”) that involves a guy. But he’s Australian so I guess that’s something.

Later that night, Nick and Jess throw away the charred remnants of the child’s toy and begin to have a serious discussion in which Nick wonders aloud whether Jess misses the days they used to just be friends. Back then, there was no pressure to change each other; they were free to be quirky and weird and dream about intergalactic space travel without each decision affecting the other person. Jess misses those days too, just like Nick does. And I think that, in a way, they never got to experience THOSE days long enough before settling into a relationship. Nick and Jess have always had a connection and a chemistry and from the beginning, Nick has been falling slowly for her. For him, Jess was always the goal. And as the two begin to contemplate what it means to want each other to be themselves in the relationship, they realize that they cannot be themselves without clashing on every level. And they cannot change to remain in a relationship. They’re at the third and final impasse and this is what happens:
Nick: I love you.
Jess: Well, I love you too.
Nick: More than I’ve ever loved anybody.
Jess: But what if that’s the only thing we have in common?
And there is the question, laid bare: is love enough to save a relationship in which two people are headed down different forks in a road? There’s silence, then, as both Nick and Jess now recognize that they’re at a point of no return. They could have dropped the conversation and argument earlier. They could have pretended they were okay. But now? Now there is no turning back. They both express that they miss just being the other’s friend. So they stand in silence until they decide to call it. It’s a bittersweet moment because they’re not ending on bad terms; they’re ending on mutual, rational, and rather mature ones. And they still – above all else – love each other like crazy. But it’s awkward and Nick makes a Saving Private Ryan reference to inject some levity into the situation, which works because it makes Jess crack a smile.

Nick then decides to walk Jess to her room and right then is where I lost it and began to sob. That hallway was the start of their beautiful, crazy, and weird relationship in “Cooler.” It’s the place where Nick decided not to think about the consequences of his actions – to realize that he wanted Jess and no one else; to just kiss her like he had wanted to for so long. (“I meant something like that.”) As he walks her toward the room, we see the evident parallels to this episode, stylistically. And we feel the palpable tension and the sadness that now hangs between these two. They stand at the door and tears are forming in both of their eyes, which punched me in the gut.

Here they are, Nick and Jess: these two crazy kids who love each other so much that they’re walking away from each other because they recognize that sometimes love just isn’t enough. And just like in “First Date,” you can tell that Nick desperately wants to say something – anything – to Jess but he cannot find the words. And then… they walk away. And as Nick scrubs a hand over his face and sniffs back tears, Jess walks into her room and Nick heads back to his, head hanging low.

But then, the most heartbreakingly beautiful “Cooler” parallel occurs when Jess reemerges from her room, tugs Nick’s arm to pull him back toward her, and holds him in a tight hug. Nick, initially hesitant (the parallel with his hands in both instances destroyed me), embraces her tightly and it’s all you can do to not sob (no, wait, I did that…) over how much these two mean to each other. Though I always knew Nick and Jess would have to break up at some point, I wasn’t expecting the breakup to be as beautifully constructed as this one was. And it WAS beautiful, because we saw every little detail from “Cooler” resurface, right down to the color of Jess’ pajamas and the t-shirt Nick was wearing. They’re not breaking up because they fizzled, nor do I think this relationship impacted the series negatively. They’re not breaking up because Jess wants it or because Nick wants it. They’re breaking up because sometimes what you want out of life is somewhere further down a winding, thorny, and branch-filled path. And maybe it’ll take a while. And it’ll most likely be painful and challenging.

The truth is that Nick and Jess may have split at a fork in the road, but that doesn’t mean that the fork doesn’t open to a clearing where they can find each other again once they’ve learned how to find themselves.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
  • This is the longest New Girl review I’ve ever written so thank you for sticking with it. Whew.
  • “1, 2, 3, 4! JFK!” “FDR!”
  • “Jessica, did we die?”
  • SADIE WAS BACK.
  • “… Your bagel fell out of your mouth.” “I’m Jewish.”
  • “You wrote an entire Jewel song in here?”
  • Schmidt’s hungover description of emojis is probably the best thing ever.
  • Jess, on her future with Nick: “Our house smells like cider.”
  • “I’m so hungover, my body’s shutting down and nothing you’re saying makes any sense.”
  • “You make up SO much science fiction but you know nothing about science.”
  • “You would not know a sex blink if it blinked you in the sex.”
  • Coach and Schmidt’s fight was AMAZING and hilarious.
  • “I will knock you out where you stand in – in the ground!”
  • “You have crazy witch eyes.”
  • I will never ever be over that hug. I also love the parallel to “Cooler” with Jess’ bedroom door opening at the end of the episode.
We are on hiatus because The Mindy Project returns with a one-hour premiere next Tuesday (SO STOKED BY THE WAY). So I will be back the following Wednesday night with the usual review (or whenever it is that we actually return from mini-hiatus). So until then, folks! :)

8 comments:

  1. I think this was your best review ever!! So thoughtful. I think you hit on everything I saw and took in from this episode and everything I didn't. Thank you for this!

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    1. Thank you, Emily! <3 And thanks for being such a faithful reader. :)

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  2. I really appreciate your weekly reviews, especially this one. They are the best thing next to watching the actual episodes. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you so much for being so faithful and reading each week! I'm so glad I decided to review this season. I've really enjoyed analyzing. :)

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  3. Great review as always. I liked everything about this episode except the breakup (big except, I know). I've generally been happy with the way they handled the Nick/Jess relationship on the show. It was always a given they would break up because that's the nature of sitcoms, and that's especially the nature of "will they won't they?" relationships. But I dunno, the whole gift thing felt pretty contrived as the reason for the argument. No one would act like that, not even in NewGirlLand

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    1. Thanks for the reply, Derek! I think that the point wasn't that they broke up over a toy. That wasn't even the catalyst -- it was the fact that they both held so much back from each other sober that it all was laid bare when they were hungover. Jess said things to Nick she's been feeling (and vice versa) but never verbally expressed because of the fact that if she did, they would never stop fighting.

      The fight wasn't about the toy or even really about their futures: it was about the dreams and visions they hold so fast to that they simply cannot compromise on them. When Nick and Jess "compromised" earlier in the episode, pre-fire, they realized that all they were doing was plastering on fake smiles and fake personalities, right? They realized that they want each other to be who they are in the relationship... but they cannot. Because they fight when that happens and when they act apart from who they are, the problems go away but it's like putting a band-aid on a leak in a boat: you can only prevent yourself from sinking for so long. It's a temporary fix, not a permanent solution.

      So that, in my opinion, is really why they broke up. Thanks so much for your comment and for reading each week! I really appreciate it. :)

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  4. This was a really great review! I had only seen this episode once (when it premiered), feeling as if I'd never be able to watch it again. I couldn't believe that Nick and Jess had broken up (and I know that many felt the same). So I watched it for a second time last night, and certainly felt differently about it after round 2. You are definitely right in that Nick and Jess broke up for mature reasons which is probably one of the hardest break-ups to endure. Again, after second viewing, I agree with you when you said that the writers created a beautiful, real break-up episode. I think it's important for New Girl fans to watch this episode multiple times in order to deconstruct it and understand it, because sometimes those first-time views are not enough to understand an episode's core. Liz and the rest of the New Girl people know what they're doing, and your review is a beautiful reminder of the authenticity that they have brought to this series since day 1.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Sammie! When I first began doing blog-reviews I found that the ONLY way to review a show was to re-watch the episode at least twice. A first-watch leaves something lacking: you miss some of the depth or important moments because you're distracted or flailing or not thinking about what you're watching. So I've always recommended people to watch an episode twice, especially if you don't like it the first time. Take a break and re-acquaint yourself with it and shove all possible prejudices away when you do.

      I'm so glad that you watched it twice! Isn't it amazing what you garner from the second viewing? You really begin to understand WHY Nick and Jess were fighting and you can see how mature it is that they finally understand that they cannot keep pretending they're okay when they're clearly not. I have faith in Liz Meriwether and her team and look forward to season 4. It's a hope that most of the (now extremely pessimistic and pouty) fandom will follow your example and give the season another chance with a fresh pair of eyes.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I sincerely appreciate it. :)

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