Thursday, October 24, 2013

New Girl 3x06 "Keaton" (Our Heroes Are Never Who We Want Them to Be)

Original Airdate: October 22, 2013

I remember being an elementary and middle school student during the first day of classes. Every year, at least one of my teachers would ask each of us to fill out a sheet of paper – it was a “getting to know you” form, peppered with questions ranging from our favorite colors to our favorite board game or hobby. One question that I always remember existing on these forms, no matter what grade or class I was in, was this: “Who is your hero?”

Without fail, I would write down the same answer year after year: “My mom.” And truly, my mom was and is my hero. In the eyes of the world, she’s nothing quite extraordinary. She’s not famous or wealthy. She hasn’t done anything extremely significant to be recognized. She never went to college and was a stay-at-home mom when I was younger. Yes, in the eyes of our culture, my mom is nothing to marvel at. But to me, she was always special: she was loving and kind; she read me bedtime stories every night; she let me be creative and use my imagination to play dress-up or tell her stories. Now, as a 24-year old, I use the word “hero” to describe her because she represents how I want to be, someday, as a mother.

A lot of us have our own personal heroes, whether they are family members, friends, or complete and total strangers like actors or athletes or musicians. There are people in life we aspire to be, surely, but that’s not all that a hero is. A hero isn’t just someone you marvel at, in my opinion. A hero is someone who is representative of how you want to live your life – how they handle circumstances in their lives speaks more to us, I would argue, than the circumstances themselves. My mom is my hero because of how she responds to the issues life throws at her. And interestingly enough, the Halloween episode of New Girl this season addresses the low point in Schmidt’s life and how the resurfacing of his own personal hero affects him and his attitude.

“Keaton” is an episode that focuses on the relationship between Nick and Schmidt, which is really quite fantastic in and of itself, but a lot more touching when it is revealed that NICK has been taking care of SCHMIDT for twelve years. The last time we truly got a glimpse into the Nick/Schmidt dynamic was in “Tinfinity.” In that episode, the pair was celebrating ten years of friendship… with Schmidt essentially proving to Nick throughout the entirety of the episode, that HE is the more responsible of the two (arguably, Nick does have a lot of issues with responsibility). Schmidt hits a low point in the evening, however, when Shivrang proposes to Cece. He hits a truly low point, and the one person who is there for him when he hits the bottom is Nick. What a beautifully ironic moment too, right? Schmidt spends the whole episode convinced that he always has to pick up Nick’s slack – that he never, in their ten years of friendship, anticipated Nick following through with anything. But it is Nick in “Tinfinity” and Nick again in “Keaton” who picks Schmidt up. Whether or not it is intentional, I love the image of arguably the most broken character in the loft being there to support and rescue one of the most stable.

But before we discuss Nick and Schmidt’s relationship, Jess’ amazing costume, and the end-of-episode twist that everyone saw coming (but that I still loved anyway), let’s talk about the rest of the episode, shall we?

It’s Halloween at Apartment 4D, and that means Nick gets pulled into a meeting in the vacant Apartment 4C with Jess and Winston to discuss Schmidt’s recent spiral into despondency. Winston and Jess seem to think that there is a real issue at hand, while Nick attempts to dissuade them otherwise. He’s just going through a breakup, Nick reasons, and will get better in time. And he’ll talk to Schmidt. everything will be okay.

As we recall from last week’s episode, however, everything is far from okay in Schmidt’s mind. He’s going through a complex self-evaluation (while still fighting to accept that he has need to go through an evaluation at all). “The Box” ended with Schmidt declaring to his rabbi that nothing truly mattered anymore – a statement that Jess explains he is still uttering at the beginning of this episode, too. Season three Schmidt is the lowest we have ever seen him. He has lost two women he cared about, due only to his own faults, and has sunk into not merely despair, but also a void. Everything he believed about himself to be true – that he was a good person, that he cared about people, that he would never hurt those he loved – crumbled before his eyes. And when everything you thought to be true of yourself disappears… well, what is left is nothing substantial at all.

So Schmidt stays on the couch. He skips three days of work. He eats cold cuts and mayonnaise out of the bottle. He yells at the television. And in his mind, this is his next logical step: he does not know who he has become. Schmidt no longer recognizes himself and – per his reiteration – nothing really matters in the end anyway, so why shouldn’t he sit on the couch eating deli meat and punching holes in Winston’s pumpkin? While a lot of Schmidt’s behavior throughout the series can be classified as selfish, and while I do believe that he’s spent the majority of this season acting selfishly and receiving wounds that he has deserved, “Keaton” is the episode that represents Schmidt’s lowest point in his self-evaluation, the ending point of his self-centered demise, and also his launching point for the next chapter in his life. Because the fact of the matter is that our low points are our humble points. No one (or rarely anyone) is humble when their lives are going well. What is the need for humility when you have success?

It is only when we have reached our lowest can we see ourselves as we truly are: broken, in need of rescue, damaged beyond repair, and ready to begin looking back up again. With Schmidt as broken as he is, Winston knows there is one solution and only one solution in order to return him back to “normal” again: Michael Keaton.

Jess is obviously confused as Winston brings this up to Nick (who absolutely refuses to have any hand in the endeavor), but then gets told a story about Schmidt’s childhood. Nick relays the tale to his girlfriend: Schmidt grew up with only his mother around because his father divorced her and left. This, obviously, had a negative impact on Schmidt and his mother tried everything in order to try and cheer him up. Finally, she decided that she would write her son a letter and sign it from his favorite actor at the time – Michael Keaton. The only problem, however, was that Schmidt wrote back to the actor and kept writing back about every problem he had in his life. Eventually, when Schmidt went off to college, Mrs. Schmidt turned to Nick in order to help her answer the letters on behalf of “Michael Keaton.”

And Nick, like the good friend that he was, followed through and wrote letters to his roommate, pretending to be Schmidt’s hero. After hearing this story, Jess gets an idea: Schmidt, being in a funk, could truly use a letter from Michael Keaton. And while Nick could easily help by writing one… he refuses. In addition to the power that the letters possess, Nick feels guilt for betraying his best friend. So he insists that he’s put the alter ego aside for years and will not revisit it. I thought it was interesting, and perhaps a nice parallel, that Nick was so insistent on putting the letters to rest three years ago because it was “betraying” his best friend. While Schmidt actually betrayed his friends weeks ago, as well as Elizabeth and Cece, by sabotaging them and his relationships because of his self-centered thoughts and actions, Nick’s motives were mostly entirely pure. It is true that a happier Schmidt in college made for a happier Nick (explaining why Nick would want to keep up the Keaton charade), but… what happened AFTER college? It makes me wonder what exactly occurred in order for Nick to suddenly decide that what he was doing was wrong and dishonest, as he states that he had only stopped writing the letters three years ago – right before Jess arrived at the loft, presumably.

And “Keaton,” essentially, is why I love Nick Miller so much (and why I love characters like Britta Perry, too). Nick is consistently portrayed as a slacker or an unmotivated man. The majority of the time, these portrayals are quite accurate. Nick IS lazy. He IS unmotivated. He’s intelligent, but he doesn’t often care enough to put that intelligence to use. One thing that Nick always is, however, is caring. He goes out of his way for his friends and Jess. He genuinely does what he can in order to make the people around him feel cared for and about. Though he seems aloof and may ruin knitting projects and break the kitchen sink, Nick knows when the people around him are hurting. And he does all he can to prevent them from hurting more. So when he hangs up his metaphorical Keaton hat, it’s not out of laziness or unfeeling – it’s because he cares too much about Schmidt to deceive him anymore. Nick wants to make HIS friendship enough to help his friend when he suffers. That’s pretty admirable.

Speaking of friends who are suffering, Jess visits Cece at her apartment… where she finds the model hungover on the couch with food containers, bottles, and trash littering the apartment. Concerned for her friend’s well-being in light of her recent break-up, Jess invites Cece to the loft for a Halloween party that she’s throwing. A party that she assures her friend Schmidt will NOT be attending.

(The reason that Jess feels confident in Schmidt’s absence is this: in lieu of Nick sending an e-mail as Keaton, Jess sent one to Schmidt instead.)

I really do like that “Keaton” and the November 5th episode “Coach” will take time to focus on Jess and Cece’s friendship because I feel like theirs is such an important relationship in the series that doesn’t get focused on as much as it could. Cece truly cares about Jess (remember when she threatened Schmidt, Nick, and Coach when the woman moved into the loft?) and Jess loves her best friend dearly. Cece is now at a point in her story during “Keaton” in which she desires closure with Schmidt. But she – like many of us – avoids her ex-boyfriend in order to prevent the pain from resurfacing. What she realizes at the end of this episode, of course, is that locking herself away in her apartment provided no closure. Pretending that particular chapter of her life had never happened wouldn’t serve as closure either. The only way, Cece realized, to gain complete closure was to actually face Schmidt.

In the loft, Schmidt reveals to Nick, Winston, and Jess that he will not be attending the Halloween party at the apartment. He’s in chipper spirits because he’s received correspondence from “Michael Keaton” (with Nick and Winston hilariously and subtly looking at one another and then accusingly at Jess). Nick warns Jess of the damage she has done – Schmidt puts so much emphasis on those letters, and “Keaton” hasn’t written in years. A lack of continued correspondence will destroy him, but worse: if Schmidt were to find out that Michael Keaton hadn’t really been writing the letters, everything Schmidt ever knew about his life would be questioned. And truly, Nick realizes that Schmidt is ALREADY questioning everything he’s known about his life for the past few months. The last thing, understandably, that Nick wants to do is destroy Schmidt further.

So Jess “fixes” the problem of Schmidt acting weird about the letter… by sending an e-mail stating that “Michael” will be on vacation. Nick and Winston, who have more of a grasp on Schmidt as a person than Jess does, realize her fatal error. The e-mail that Jess sent sends Schmidt back into a tailspin, ending with him lying on his bed eating a block of cheese. What’s really telling, though, is what Schmidt says while doing this. Essentially, Schmidt reverts to a child-like, catatonic state whenever something devastating happens in his life. As we see at the beginning of the episode, Schmidt is eating cold cuts on the couch (which we notice is something he used to do years prior in college whenever he experienced heartache). Similarly, as a child, Schmidt ate candy bars in his bed and – as an adult – reverts to the same habits when his life is in disarray. I really appreciated the parallelism and emphasis on the habits that Schmidt never truly grows out of and that we all fall back on whenever our lives are in shambles.

Nick knows that the only solution is to don the persona of Keaton and e-mail Schmidt. With Winston and Jess watching, the man sends his e-mail (wearing a Batman mask). As an aside, I truly enjoyed two elements of our A-story this week: First, I loved that Winston was a part of the A-storyline. His “crazy” was toned down this week, but he was still hilarious and aloof and yet somehow normal and… well, basically all of the things that make Winston Bishop delightful. The second thing I enjoyed in “Keaton” was the emphasis on Nick and Jess as friends and cohorts. The two are absolutely wonderful and endearing as a romantic pairing, but there’s this extra level of hilarity and utter glee that I receive whenever I see the two of them pair up to accomplish a task or tackle an insane adventure. The reason I loved Nick/Jess in the first place was because of their fantastic platonic chemistry. They always seem to balance one another out so flawlessly and truly play into each others’ strengths. “Keaton” was a return to episodes from last season like “Pepperwood” where we got to see these two individuals be crazy with one another, and also playfully exasperated with one another, too.

(Essentially what I am saying is that any storyline featuring a scheming Nick/Jess and a delightfully aloof Winston is fine with me!)

Nick sends an uplifting quote to Schmidt from the trio’s new scheming spot – Apartment 4C – and back in the loft, Schmidt opens the door for trick or treaters as they arrive. When he sends another e-mail to “Michael Keaton,” however, the man notices something: at the exact time he sends the message, he hears a ping from down the hall. Upon further examination, Schmidt discovers Nick, Winston, and Jess in Apartment 4C, hovered around Nick’s laptop, sending him e-mails posing as “Michael Keaton.”

As Jess and Scooby-Doo would say: ruh-roh.

Later that evening, Jess’ Halloween party is in full-swing and she’s dressed as Joey Ramona Quimby (WHICH IS JUST SO FANTASTIC), when Nick and Schmidt arrive, dressed as the Trash King and David Letterman, respectively. The trio is horrified, however, when Schmidt appears at the party, dressed in costume and insisting that he’s going to stay after all. Jess, Nick, and Winston then rush over to what they have dubbed “The Bat Cave” – Apartment 4C – after Schmidt explains that he has been re-reading e-mails and Nick believes this to mean that Schmidt has figured the entire ruse out.

Jess’ (drunk) solution is to send an e-mail to Schmidt as Keaton, saying that he will meet Schmidt at the apartment building. Nick can’t believe what he is hearing, but the damage is done. But as the couple encounters trick or treaters outside of Apartment 4C, Jess gets an idea and dons a Batman costume. Outside, with Nick reprimanding her and wondering what her genius plan is, Jess says this: “It’s Halloween night. This is the night when anyone can dress up in a costume and be anyone they want.”

I really enjoy how unintentionally profound Jess allows this statement to be. And really, Halloween IS a night where we all dress up as something that we are not. It speaks volumes, in and of itself, that we all look forward to a day where we can be someone or something else, but it says more that JESS mentions this concept, especially in an episode where the major theme is that of identity. Schmidt has lost his identity somewhere along the line in the last few months on New Girl and, in “Keaton,” is still trying to define who he is by his relationships with other people. He hasn’t, I would argue, actually been able to examine himself for long enough for revelations or changes to take root and take effect in his life. And there’s this theme of identity, too, not just in Schmidt’s characterization but also in Nick’s. Nick has consistently been Schmidt’s protector for the past twelve years, using the guise of Michael Keaton to shelter his best friend from disappointments and heartache. But it’s on Halloween that Nick realizes something: he can’t do that anymore. In order for Schmidt to be able to actually grow, he NEEDS to go through the rough patches without a quick fix from Keaton. And what Nick can do is approach his best friend as HIMSELF, rather than a famous actor.

I really loved this notion that Dave Finkel and Brett Baer mentioned in a behind-the-scenes video for the episode, to be honest. They noted that Nick did, for a while, enjoy playing the part of Keaton because it allowed him to have honest conversations with his friend without any repercussions to their actual relationship. As Keaton, Nick could say everything he wanted to say to Schmidt as himself without feeling the stakes of their friendship in the way. It was this beautiful little means of escape he could take in order to guide his friend without altering the status quo. But Nick realized, somewhere along the line, that he couldn’t keep living that lie and decided to drop the charade altogether.

So when Schmidt appears outside of the apartment building, seeking Keaton, Nick pretends that he knows nothing of Keaton’s supposed appearance. Yet Jess – determined Jess – stands in the distance and speaks to her troubled roommate as Michael Keaton. Of course, Schmidt knows that Nick, Jess, and Winston have been behind the e-mails. (As Schmidt rushes toward Jess-as-Keaton, Nick makes the profound statement/warning: “Our heroes are never who we want them to be!”)

But what baffles Nick and Jess is this: Schmidt believes the trio hacked into Michael Keaton’s e-mail, but still believes the actor has been sending him e-mails and letters most of his life. Nick finally confesses, however, to a disbelieving Schmidt, that he was the one to send the emails. Schmidt is understandably stunned and confused, but before he has time to fully process this heartfelt revelation, Winston approaches with Cece and Schmidt – visibly shaken, stunned, and scared – begins to leave… and is then beaten up by trick or treating children.

Cece and Jess discuss how the former feels a sense of closure after finally being forced to confront her problems rather than run away from them (a feat that Schmidt has yet to attempt or accomplish), Nick and Schmidt discuss Keaton. As it turns out, Nick was the one to help Schmidt get through his first break-up with Elizabeth. He’s helped him through crisis after crisis without Schmidt’s knowledge. And as he says in a completely sentimental manner on the curb, Schmidt doesn’t NEED Keaton because he has Nick.

The next morning, Schmidt decides that he needs to embark on a new chapter in his life, completely and utterly alone. Up until now, mind you, Schmidt has relied on his roommates, on “Michael Keaton,” on his mom, and on his relationships in order to define who he is as a person. If Halloween taught him anything, it’s that he can be anything he wants to be… he just has to know what that is. So he announces his plan to move out of the loft in order to discover who he is as a person. And honestly, I knew that Schmidt would be the person to leave the loft and it makes a lot of sense: Schmidt needs to be isolated in order to find himself. He’s been a thorn for the roommates and Cece the past few episodes and – honestly – his actions have been a hindrance to his own personal growth. Though failure is a part of the character journey, and an integral one at that, there also comes a point in time – a natural progression – in which a character must come to terms with their actions and decisions and understand how to prevent those failures from recurring. The writers’ decision to have Schmidt move out is such a wonderful and logical character progression, so I applaud them for taking that leap. It does, of course, open doors for certain actors and characters to return next episode (spoiler alert: I’m talking, of course, about Coach), too.

“We’re  great, but I’m going,” Schmidt insists to Nick. “Two separate things.”

And as Nick, Winston, and Jess watch Schmidt roll his tiny suitcase and box (and Douchebag Jar in tow) out of Apartment 4D and toward the elevator, the audience begins to wonder if we will ever see Schmidt again.

… Just kidding. We KNOW we will see him again, since he’s moving right across the hall into “The Bat Cave” Apartment 4C. So maybe Schmidt’s move wasn’t surprising or controversial, but I do think that it was necessary and logical and perfect. Schmidt lost a hero in “Keaton,” and that loss shattered everything he had known about his childhood. It made him question pivotal moments in his life and reevaluate his situations, actions, and subsequent decisions.

Maybe it’s time for Schmidt to find a new hero. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s time for Schmidt to – once again – reclaim the title of the hero of his own story.

And I think I like that notion.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:

  • Winston scaring Nick at the beginning in Apartment 4C with ghost noises/tales was FANTASTIC.
  • “But not the confusing new one… the good one.”
  • Nick needs to tell stories ALL the time.
  • “Was Winston’s version shorter?”
  • “A man named me. It was me.” “Yeah, I got that.”
  • “I’m simple. I’m like Hemingway.” CALLBACKS TO “EGGS” ARE ALWAYS WELCOME.
  • I love that Winston thinks he has seen The Truman Show.
  • “Would you listen to your woman voice for one second?”

Thank you all for reading this review! See you on November 6th for my review of “Coach”! :)


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