Wednesday, February 5, 2014

New Girl 3x15 "Exes" (Let's Be Friends, 'Kay?)

Original Airdate: February 4, 2014

My best friend is still friends with her exes. Well, some of them at least and to varying degrees. One of her ex-boyfriends invited her to his wedding. They’re friends, though not the intensely chummy friends that Jessica Day and Berkley are in this week’s (second!) episode of New Girl. I want to believe that exes can be friends and I want to believe that men and women can just be friends. I want to be Sally, not Harry. But… can an ex ever return to being a “just” after you’ve had a relationship? Think about it: for most people, friendships turn into relationships. You’re “just friends” for a while and then somewhere along the line, BAM. You form a romantic relationship. But when that relationship ends, can you return to being a “just” with them anymore? That’s the fundamental question at the heart of the appropriately titled episode “Exes.” In it, Nick runs into his ex-girlfriend Caroline at the farmers market and it’s relatively awkward for him since they didn’t leave their relationship on the best of terms. Meanwhile, Jess boasts that she’s still great friends with her ex-boyfriend Berkley and that it is possible to remain platonically connected to someone you were once romantically involved with. And, for the record, Jess learns that she is wrong by the end of the episode. So very wrong.

New Girl has always been focused on relationships – friendships, romantic relationships, familial ones – so it makes sense that the series would take one episode to focus on what happens when you have or try to have a relationship with someone after your romance has ended. What’s great about the episode’s resolution is that both Nick and Jess get the chance to admit not that they were wrong, but that each person was RIGHT. Jess was right about Nick needing closure with Caroline; Nick was right about Berkley wanting more than friendship with Jess. One of New Girl’s fundamental pillars is the idea that Nick and Jess see the world very differently. Jess always gives people the benefit of the doubt. She’s proud, though, whenever she discovers she is wrong. Nick, meanwhile, is the curmudgeonly, turtle-faced bartender who sees the worst in everyone (“yeah, because people are the worst!”).  “Exes” was less focused on helping us understand more about who Nick and Jess are than it was on allowing us to understand WHY Nick and Jess’ exes act the way that they do. It was a nice change of pace, really, because we’ve had a lot of epsiodes throughout the series that have highlighted Jess’ naivete and Nick’s pessimism. “Exes” didn’t need to rehash those topics. Instead, the story was driven by the exes – by understanding what Nick and Jess have done to other people in their lives, as opposed to understanding the way in which these two characters see the world. Spoiler alert: it’s really enlightening to see the return of Caroline and the apperance of Berkley.

Elsewhere in our episode this week, Schmidt is beginning to realize exactly how lonely he is without new roommates and attempts to bond with Winston and Coach. Things go awry, however, when all three of them bring women back to the apartment for the evening. And though I wasn’t quite sure how this story propelled any sort of character development – except to perhaps illuminate how much Schmidt actually needs other people – it was fun for these three to be in wacky, farce-shenanigans together. And what I’m really appreciating about the back half of the third season is the either conscious or unconscious decision on the part of the writers to only try and work with A and B stories. A lot of comedies try to throw C and D plots and, for a while, the team tried to throw Winston into his own C-plot. But now, I’m appreciative of the focus on only two stories as it allows us to not only interact with all of the characters in a larger setting, but also improves them as characters, comedically.

But before we talk about the heartwarming (and, arguably, pretty canon) revelation at the end of the episode on Nick’s part or how Schmidt talks to his grapes, let’s recap the plot!

The episode opens with Jess and Nick returning from the farmers market where he reveals that he ran into Caroline. In a semi-When Harry Met Sally discussion, Nick explains to Jess that he doesn’t deal with his ex-girlfriends because they’re a piece of his past that he’d rather burn. People simply cannot stay friends with exes, he explains, unless they want to hook up with them at some point in the future. Jess is defiantly against Nick’s attitude and informs him that Berkley – her ex-boyfriend with whom she had a terrible break-up – is still a good friend: he’s a stay-at-home, emotionally mature dad. Nick doesn’t buy any of this because Nick is a curmudgeon, but in “Exes” he’s actually right about Berkley.

When Jess polls Winston and Coach, they both agree with Nick (Winston still stays in touch with Shelby’s dad but Coach admits that exes are for sex only). Schmidt enters and excitedly tells the group about how he’s finished redecorating his new apartment. No one is excited about this announcement and poor Schmidt just wants his friends to be happy for him. Since Schmidt’s departure from the loft, he’s felt disconnected (as he later explains to Cece) in a lot of ways from himself. I love that “Exes” explored how weird Schmidt gets when he’s alone because it’s a common theme among all of these friends. Winston gets weird with things. Nick gets weird when he’s heartbroken. Jess gets weird when she’s upset. Coach gets weird, too. So the fact that Schmidt begins to act very Winston-esque when trying to hit on a woman at the bar later on speaks volumes about these friends. Either they’ve adopted each others’ habits and quirks OR they have all always had the same quirks and miraculously managed to find each other.

Jess confronts Nick and tells him that he needs closure with Caroline. It’s a nice role-reversal from “Kryptonite,” where Nick was the one who encouraged Jess to find closure with Spencer (albeit because he wanted a new television for the loft) and he was there when she finally stood up for herself. Jess, in turn, does the same for Nick now and he agrees to meet with Caroline to talk.

Schmidt is so lonely that he talks to the grapes in his refrigerator and cries when he realizes how alone he is, so Cece encourages him to ditch the “creepy vibe” and begin the process of inviting more people into his life. Schmidt agrees, which is where Coach and Winston factor into the equation later on in the episode. In order to move past the hurdle of loneliness, Schmidt realizes he needs to open himself back up to people and “find himself” again as it were. He also, I think, knows that he needs to reconnect with his former roommates.

At a café, Nick and Caroline are having the most awkward snack time ever and Nick is avoiding Caroline’s question. All she wants to know in order to have closure is why he walked out on her (“See Ya”) and moved back into the loft. And the question could have been answered easily, as we find out later in the episode, because the answer itself isn’t complex. What is complex is Nick’s emotional attachment to the answer. Nick Miller is a good guy. He doesn’t want to have a bad relationship with Caroline, he doesn’t want her to hate him, and the way that he accomplishes both of those tasks is simply by avoiding her altogether and shoving her memory into a box, reminiscent of the literal one in “The Box.” Because when Caroline asks why Nick walked out on their relationship and ended it, Caroline wants closure but Nick wants to give an answer that will placate her. He knows there is no right or easy answer… so he avoids the question altogether. It’s not the most reprehensible method of operation because I think it stems from a decent place in his heart, but it’s simply Nick’s default: he panic-moonwalks away from things that are uncomfortable, including his exes.

When Jess meets up with Nick later on, he tells her the conversation went well and – proud of him – they kiss on the street, just in time for Caroline to drive by and see. Her crazy fuse ignites when she presumes that Nick cheated on her with Jess and THAT is the reason he walked out. Back at the loft, Jess can’t believe Nick didn’t tell Caroline about their relationship and the man admits to being scared. As a solution, Jess offers for Berkley to come over and talk to Nick since her ex-boyfriend is a guru on matters of the heart. Nick is understandably skeptical of Berkley and believes that Jess’ constant contact with him throughout the years has been leading the man on.

Jess is naïve (we’ve seen this clearly in “The Landlord”) and believes that Nick is jaded and Berkley is wise, so she dismisses his notion. And the beauty of “Exes” is that both Nick and Jess end up being right, though they both confess to each other that they were wrong. It’s one thing for a series to make the female the naïve, clueless half of the pairing and the man to say “I told you so,” which is what a lot of series would do. But I love that New Girl places Nick and Jess on equal footing. Even when, in the past, it has seemed like Nick is being overprotective or Jess is being too trusting, the show doesn’t shy away from portraying the validity of both individuals and their beliefs.

In Apartment 4C, Schmidt is adorably bonding with Coach and Winston by essentially providing a loft that caters to their every possible need and by making them both keys. It’s really entertaining to see Schmidt try so hard to become friends again with these men. Of course, Coach and Winston are friends with Schmidt… but the biggest perk of all to them is the new apartment which is perfect to bring women into (literally it’s catered for that). So it’s highly probable that Winston and Coach were using the perks of the loft and rather uninterested in maintaining a friendship with Schmidt. But if I’m being honest, I don’t think Schmidt cared – I think he knew that the perks would draw and keep his former roommates and that was all he really wanted.

Berkley, meanwhile, arrives to counsel Nick on his Caroline issues while the curmudgeonly bartender grows skeptical of Berkley and Jess’ relationship. They’re jovial and awkward-free, which doesn’t make any sort of logical sense to Nick. It makes sense to Jess, though, because she doesn’t tend to put people into boxes. She sees exactly what she wants to see when she looks at someone – she sees their full potential, all of their best qualities, and their value. What happens, however, is that this way of looking at people creates a haze, clouding her from the subtle nuances and hints that people like Nick (who are cloud-free, albeit a bit gloomy) pick up on. Berkley advises Nick to try and forge a friendship with Caroline by allowing her to get everything off her chest and being supportive, rather than running away from or avoiding the conversation. Nick concedes, but isn’t so great with the words as he drafts a message to his ex-girlfriend.

Later that evening, Berkley excitedly approaches Jess in the kitchen and tells her… he’s going to break up with his wife so that they can be together. The woman is dumbfounded at her ex-boyfriend’s insanity and realizes, in that moment, that Nick was right: she had spent years unintentionally leading her ex on and now was about to watch her naïveté blow up in her face. And the spark that set Berkley’s heart ablaze finally? A compliment that Jess paid him in the afternoon – she had expressed that he means a lot to her and thanked him for being a part of her life. In an effort to prove Nick wrong, Jess managed to get herself into a mess (again, much like “The Landlord”). And, just like in that episode, Jess decides to hold onto her pride for as long as possible by not admitting that Nick was right and shoving away Berkley and his feelings.

Nick receives a text from Caroline instructing him to come to the window and she then proceeds to take bricks and objects to what she presumes is his car below. It’s not his car, but real fear begins to surface in Nick and he demands that Berkley stay in the loft until they can sort his problem out (and also to protect him from a crazy Caroline out in the street). This is great news for Berkley and terrible news for Jess, of course.

At la casa de Schmidt, there’s a bit of a mix-up as Coach brings a girl over for the night and pretends that his name is Schmidt in the process. This is awkward for the real Schmidt who ALSO has a girl that he’s brought home, but in an act of humility (Coach says that he “needs this”) he concedes his bedroom to his friend even though arguably Schmidt is the person who needs this evening to go well more. He decides that he’ll use the guest bedroom… only to find that it is already occupied with Winston and Bertie, the slightly-crazed woman who found Ferguson. Needless to say, Schmidt is in a bit of a predicament, but what I love about this trope is that most shows would find a way to stretch the comedic moments of Winston, Coach, and Schmidt attempting to avoid each other and the hook-ups throughout an entire episode to the point where the farce became stale. “Exes” shuts this idea down rather quickly, likely because… well, Schmidt, Coach, and Winston are not intelligent enough – combined – to pull off an elaborate plan. Everything falls through in the end, and the women with the exception of Bertie, end up leaving in a huff after being duped by Coach and Schmidt. But Schmidt received what he wanted: he became closer (albeit in a weird way) to his former roommates and he also managed to slightly warm himself back up to the dating/hooking up realm.

As Caroline ascends the elevator and begins to bang on the door to Apartment 4D, everyone within begins to panic, and no one more so than Jess who is trying to ward off Berkley’s advances. Finally, she shuts him down by telling him – quietly – that she doesn’t love him. This sets Berkley off and Nick becomes invested in the conversation, totally and utterly amused that he was right and Jess was wrong. He smiles throughout the exchange, reveling in the feeling of being right for once and lets Berkley explain how Jess has led him on for ten years. Unfortunately, Caroline is banging on the door to the loft and then Berkley lets the woman in, effectively ruining Nick’s joking mood (because he was teasing Jess about her naïve behavior in a well-meaning way) and Jess’ as well.

Caroline angrily demands that Jess give her a timeline of events in order to prove that she didn’t steal Nick away and the woman obliges. I’ll be honest: I hated Caroline. I always hated her because I hated what she did to Nick and how she crushed his heart and turned him into the agoraphobic alcoholic that he was when she left. And so, throughout “Exes,” I hated Caroline. I hated that she was crazy and seemingly hopeful about running into Nick again because the only times she’s cared about him has been when it’s convenient for HER. But… there’s a moment in the loft in which I actually felt bad for the woman. She launches into a tirade against Jess and Nick’s new relationship because, ironically, Jess thought Nick seeing Caroline would allow him to clear the air between them when it was Caroline who needed to vent all along. She bitterly laments the fact that Nick used to try with her – used to hold her hand and laugh at her jokes and pay attention to her – and then… he just stopped trying. And so her crazy behavior, while still crazy, is able to be empathized with a bit more as she explains to Jess that one day, SHE will be the ex-girlfriend and all she will want to know is where things went wrong and why he left.

The “ex” comment visibly stings Jess and she begins to cry before excusing herself. And of course, Nick follows her and tells her that he needs to confront Caroline about the reason he left and he believes that Jess should hear the reason as well. The trigger for Nick that makes him finally confront Caroline is Jess, of course. Seeing her upset allows him to realize how selfish he’s been in trying to ward off his exes by refusing to confront them. And he admits, to Jess, that closure is necessary especially in the case of Caroline and Jess admits that she didn’t want to believe Berkley cared about her as more than a friend.

Nick confronts Caroline about the reason he left her in “See Ya” and this is the exchange:

Nick: Caroline, I didn’t cheat on you… but I might as well have. You see, I fell in love with Jess the moment she walked through the door. […] She’s the reason that I left. 
Caroline: I always thought that it was Jess. I’m glad I’m not crazy.

I love this moment and I don’t think it majorly or minutely retcons anything that has happened throughout the course of New Girl. What does Nick mean by saying that he fell in love the moment she walked through the door? I’ve discussed this with some blogger friends and I believe that a more apt way of phrasing it (though a smidge less romantic) is that he began to fall in love with her the moment she walked through the door, even if he couldn’t identify the emotion as “love” until two years later. Remember that in “Parking Spot,” Nick admitted that he was the reason for the no-nail oath: it was HIM; he couldn’t help himself when it came to Jess. He was beginning to develop feelings for this weird, quirky girl who moved into the loft and, having just been dumped by Caroline recently, his heart just wasn’t ready or prepared for those emotions again. So he fought those off to the best of his ability but they were still there.

Jake Johnson, in an interview, said this:

Jake made the conscious decision, as an actor, to play his character as having feelings for Jess. And if you re-watch the entire first season and second season, you’ll see those emotions quite clearly in Nick. You’ll see him look longingly at Jess and you’ll notice his jealousy and you’ll recognize the quiet moments he pines for her. And then you’ll get to “See Ya” and you’ll notice when she says goodbye to him – when they’re on the curb of his new place – he sniffs and swallows back tears. You’ll notice that she is the ONLY person he does this with. And you’ll notice that she is the first person he seeks out when he returns to the loft and the only one he cares about seeing. Do I think that Nick knew, instantly, that whatever he was feeling for Jess was love? Probably not. But do I believe that it was still love? Absolutely. I think that in hindsight, Nick began to piece together all those moments and feelings and traced them back along his timeline, realizing that from the moment Jess entered the apartment, she changed his life. She altered him. She AFFECTED him. That terrified the post-Caroline Nick who didn’t want another woman to hurt him.

But he knew that to fight those feelings was futile, so over the course of the years, he slowly began to fall more in love with her even as she dated other people and even as he did too. There’s a reason neither of them had said “I love you” to any of their significant others since Caroline and Spencer. Nick Miller was falling in love Jess the moment she walked through the door. He thought she was weird, but she was something bright and wonderful and hopeful in his life. And he hadn’t felt that for a long time. And Caroline? Caroline admits that she always thought Jess had been the reason. In the pilot, Nick had ditched her – someone he had persistently called and tried to get back together with – for Jess. He went back to the loft in “See Ya” because he went back to her. She was there for him in “Wedding” when Caroline broke his heart again. Caroline knew that Nick felt something for Jess. Nick knew that he felt something for Jess.

It just took Jess’ heart a while to catch up to Nick’s. But I’m pretty sure they would both agree that it was worth the wait.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
  • Nina Pedrad did such an AMAZING job with this episode. I absolutely and totally loved it and it ranks among the best of the season, both emotionally and comedically. Well done, lady!
  • Adam Brody was SUCH a fabulous guest star. Can we keep him?
  • “You burn them swiftly and then you give their ashes to Poseiden.”
  • “I’m pretty sure his favorite emotion is the emotion of wanting to bone you.”
  • “What if she hurts me physically? What if she hurts me with WORDS?”
  • Schmidt talking to his food in the fridge is actually me.
  • “Men don’t talk to people they’ve dated unless they want sex. Or they’re Winston.” “I also want sex.” I loved Lamorne’s entrance and delivery of that line.
  • “She’s quoting Scripture but she’s using tons of cuss words.”
  • “She’s gonna burn all my clothes on the lawn. I don’t care! I only want to wear henleys anyway.”
  • “Oh HELL ON EARTH no.”
  • “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ve lived a very fortunate life.”
Okay, dear readers. Thank you SO much for reading  my double-review of New Girl this week. I'll be back throughout the week with fun posts (check out the website if you're interested in reading about other non-New Girl stuff) and next Wednesday night with "Sister I." Until then, folks! :)


  1. I think Jess' ex is named Berkley like the town and university, not Brentley.

    1. I fixed it in the two places I accidentally called him Brentley. I have no idea why I did that, lol. I don't even KNOW any Brentleys. :P

    2. Sorry, you do use the correct name later on; needs better editing before you publish. But great review.

  2. Something that majorly bugs me about this episode is that it has zero consistency. The stuff about Nick falling in love with Jess but not knowing how to phrase it at the time is all well and good and makes sense, but... she moved in *after* he'd broken up with Caroline; how on earth could Jess have been the reason that Nick broke up with Caroline? Plus Caroline's insane 'a-ha' moment at figuring out that Nick and Jess are together doesn't make sense; why would she be so paranoid about it when in episode 3 (as in season 1 episode 3) she sees Nick and Jess together as 'boyfriend and girlfriend'?

    1. because nick and caroline got together again at the end of season 1, and nick actually moved all of his stuff out of the apartment and into Caroline's new place, but then at the end of the episode he turns back up at the loft with his stuff being delivered. Remember the episode where Nick gets scared and drives to a cliff in the removal van and throws his keys off? That's the one. So that's why he moved back into the loft from almost living with Caroline; he was in love with Jess.